“I like refried beans. That’s why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they’re just as good and we’re just wasting time.”
Mitch Hedberg said that. If you can read it in Mitch Hedberg’s voice, the joke becomes much funnier.
The music industry is hard. You have to devote your body, your mind, your soul to your craft. You have to be willing to sacrifice your comfort, your money, and sometimes your sanity just to get in the game. Bands that are doing well now are doing so because they’ve already spent 5-10 years sleeping in their car or on a friend’s floor to make it to where they are. That’s just the way the industry works, so if you’re having doubts or uncertainty now, get out and make way for someone who can take it.
So say the powers that be, which is really a way of saying that this is a story that our culture has accepted. I have no illusions of the music industry’s being a cakewalk, or about having a lucrative or even sustainable income handed to me on a silver platter. I have the utmost respect for the friends of mine who have been able to make a career out of performing, teaching, and producing music. However, I have a really hard time with that last part: “That’s just the way it is.” The inexperienced, tentative part of me shrugs and says, “oh well.” The creative and inquisitive side of me shouts out, “Why?!?”
I’m curious as to both the why and the meta-why: why is this definition of the industry a) the way it is, and b) accepted, tolerated, and paraded as a badge of honor? Every leap of innovation is preceded by the established cultural voice of the previous generation droning, “it can’t be done. This is just the way it is.” Then someone develops a new idea, a new way of approaching the problem, and suddenly the the landscape of ideas becomes unrecognizably different. The voice of the old guard, while often wise and experienced, can be stuck in approaching its problems with the same perspective as always. Worse, there’s often a strategic advantage for the culturally established to stifle the new approaches and put people on the same old path. It can be job security, ego security, or even the womb-like embrace of the status quo.
Here’s another one:
Women have to sacrifice the important things in their lives if they want to occupy a position of power. Ann-Marie Slaughter recently wrote an article on this subject in The Atlantic, discussing how her high-profile job in the State department was at odds with her family’s well-being. It goes on to explore the various facets of high-profile jobs that are unaccommodating to women, as well as take a stab at some innovations that would make it more possible for women to, in her words, “have it all.” As noted previously, the chorus from the outside, i.e., the established (and unsurprisingly, the predominantly male), is that this is just the way it is; that if a women isn’t able to build the life she wants within the upper echelon of politics, it speaks more to her lack of commitment to pursue her goals than any flaws inherent in the system.
While I have no doubt that this is the way the culture works, and even was designed, I get excited about finding loopholes and exploring solutions to the issues above, and the many similar paradigms in our culture. I’m reminded of when I played chess. I was quite the average player, but I got very excited when I taught myself a way to get out of a sometimes desperate situation. If I was in a situation where my opponent had me on the back foot and was pushing me into a corner, I would look for a way to quickly turn the tables by putting his or her king in check, rather than just falling back into deeper and deeper defensive moves. Once they are checked, your opponent can’t put the pressure on you until the they are out of danger.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with promoting my music in different ways. I have an album coming out next month, I designed a Neon and Shy t-shirt, I’m bolstering my presence on multiple web services, and I’m making punchcards with prizes for fans. I’ve been trying out a lot of different venues for my live shows, traveling to different cities, playing with different people, and experimenting with the kinds of things I play in each show. I’m in a data collection phase right now, otherwise known as the throwing-it-against-the-wall-to-see-if-it-will-stick. As I’m going along, I’m evaluating and re-evaluating effectiveness. It helps to know that correlation doesn’t imply causation, and that sometimes trying things more than once can make a difference. I also understand that there are differences, subtle and grand, between how I approach my promotion and another musician does. What works for him or her might not be a viable solution for me. The process is difficult, but it is also fun and thought-provoking, especially when I start to view it from the perspective of the detached observer; the scientist!
Ultimately, we don’t need to swallow any the stories we’ve been told without poking around to see why they exist in the first place. You may discover the disappointment that what you want is actually beyond your means, or involves task that you don’t want to do. And that’s totally ok! But what you might discover, is that the impediments you’re encountering are just a mirage, and by digging just a little deeper, you find a way that lets you have what you want. It certainly won’t be easy, but it is the ultimate gratification. When you do discover it, make sure to come back and talk to all those people mired in the same-old, and show them that those refried beans didn’t have to be fried again after all.