Big life announcement: after ten years out of school, I am going back. This fall I will be starting at the Wright Institute, working towards a Master’s in Counseling Psychology.
In this blog post from about a week before Hazel was born, I surveyed my mounting disillusionment with the indie musician hustle. In short, any degree of success that could reasonably be called ‘making it’–or even just having some net income from music that doesn’t get immediately reinvested in the enterprise–is almost entirely out of your hands. Your chances may improve if you’re talented or industrious or savvy about promotion, but at the end of the day it’s not up to you. After six years of going as hard as I know how–and I daresay I can go as hard as most–I’m just kind of done.
I don’t mean I’m done making music, making records or even touring. But I’m through treating my musical life as an asset I need to grow into something that can support me beyond its emotional rewards; and I reject the idea that I’m any less serious of an artist for that. Like most creative folks, I rue the fact that our society doesn’t nurture and support the arts*. But surprisingly enough, regarding myself and my creative output as a Brand™ and relating to close friends and new acquaintances alike as potential fans to be remotely broadcast to across multiple social media platforms actually makes me feel more, not less, alienated from my work.
It’s also trite but true that having a kid changes one’s priorities. There’s a degree of precarity that I’ve been willing to navigate for the past several years in order to freely pursue my passion that I simply don’t want to subject my kid to. That’s not a moral judgment on any parent who chooses differently (or, you know, doesn’t have a choice), but it’s where I’m at. When I began to fantasize about paths that could lead to greater stability, but that I would also find rewarding and be good at, training to become a therapist kept creeping into my thoughts.
I really fought it at first. In 2009, I left the most secure job I’ve ever had (nothing extravagant, but salaried and with decent benefits) so that I could focus more fully on music. Despite the apparent illogic, it was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, for nearly immediately the pieces started coming together: the Radical Folksonomy formed and in six months we’d recorded an EP and were gearing up for our first tour. And for most of the time since then, I’ve felt both fulfilled and sure that I was on the right path, so much so that I’d come to really identify with scraping by. Considering this major change really shook my foundation; I began to doubt my commitment to Sparklemotion. But when I’ve talked to the other musicians in my life who’ve been at it as long or longer than I have, I’ve been met with nothing but sympathetic sighs. It’s easier to give yourself a break when you know that all the peers you respect the most have similar struggles.
As I wrote in the post linked above, I’ve known that I need to recalibrate to put music first, but was stuck on the problem of promotion. If it’s worthwhile to create art, I want it to be great; if it’s great, then surely it’s worthwhile to share far and wide? But I’m starting to suspect that there’s a mental trap here of thinking that there needs to be some critical mass of people who have been touched by my art to justify what I put into it. Which is bullshit. I know that people have been moved by my songs, even if it is mostly my friends and a smattering of people one or two degrees removed. But if I can’t find satisfaction in having touched a small but significant number of people, chances are any ‘next level’ of success I might aspire to would feel just as inadequate once attained. I don’t judge any of my friends’ art in that way, and I want to stop doing so for my own.
Music isn’t leaving my life by any stretch, but I want to stop defining success by factors that are quite out of my control. And while it has made sense for several years to sacrifice some comfort and security to pursue music, it doesn’t anymore, and I’m glad I’m able to recognize that and make the right decision: for my family, but in the long term for my art as well. As my therapist pointed out (and you better believe this has been the main therapy topic for several months), everything I’m going to learn in school, about people’s brains and hearts, about what shapes us and what heals us, can only enrich my creative vision and voice.
And honestly, from where y’all are standing, you might not even be able to tell the difference. For instance, I’m playing this show in a week and a half in Oakland, with some old friends and some new; hope some of you can make it. But if not, there’ll always be another.
<3 <3 <3
*one day I really will write that anti-capitalist critique of petty bourgeois indie artist ideology I’ve been simmering on