In This Embarrassed Affair

My publishing niche is small and specialized. One of my stated goals is to help reduce barriers to entry for both creators and consumers. This boils down to controlling costs, and keeping price points low. I’m not the only person with this stated goal, but my approach seems to be markedly different from that of others. The philosophy is different. I’m not  part of the community because we really don’t agree on a lot of fundamental points in this embarrassed affair.

“While the characters of men are forming, as is always the case in revolutions, there is a reciprocal suspicion, and a disposition to misinterpret each other; and even parties directly opposite in principle will sometimes concur in pushing forward the same movement with very different views, and with the hopes of its producing very different consequences. A great deal of this may be discovered in this embarrassed affair, and yet the issue of the whole was what nobody had in view.”

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1791)

The best way to explain this is to use the analogy of the music business. We’re all musicians. The bulk of the industry is controlled by a handful of big corporations. If you’re looking for fame and fortune, signing with one of their labels has been the traditional path to success. The tradeoff is that you have less creative freedom. Often, you end up signing away the rights to your own creations.

Up to this point, the other iconoclasts in my niche and I agree: That’s not for us. We want to make what we want to make, the way we want to make it. Fame and fortune isn’t what we’re after. All we desire is the ability to make a modest living doing something we love.

Here is where we part ways.

In This Embarrassed Affair

I pursue my career by trying to book as many gigs as I can. To succeed, I need as many people as possible to hear my songs. That means playing in places I don’t necessarily like, for any number of reasons. I go where the opportunities are, so I can build a following.

I’m continually working on new material, and practicing daily in order to get better. My repertoire also includes covers and remixes, so I can tap into familiarity and show off my skills. When I’m not playing, I’m listening to other peoples’ music. From old classics to new stuff from developing artists, I’m learning. I take every opportunity to understand more about the business side of things.

My “peers”, on the other hand, are busking in front of a coffee shop. They have two or three songs that they play over and over. Sometimes they only have one. They’re not working on new material. The donations people throw into their guitar case are all theirs, though. No club is taking a cut for providing them with a bigger stage. This is a point of pride for them. They don’t earn enough to pay their bills, but they’re completely in charge of their own destiny.

Their inability to make a living is blamed on the system. Not their business model. Clearly not their lack of hustle. Sometimes their one song is, admittedly, a bop and quite brilliant. I concede that many of these musicians are far more talented than I am. They seem to think, though, that their brilliance should have its own gravity, and draw people toward them without having to do anything more than sit on the sidewalk, hoping someone wandering by will stop and listen.

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2 Replies to “In This Embarrassed Affair

  1. I love your approach. The idea that genius entitles is destructive. For the record, I would buy any business guide you write, because I know it will contain only tried business ideas and ways to use creativity as a tool rather than an ego vessel.

  2. That is a very apt analogy. And I see where you are having the difference of opinion. What, in my view at least, is ironic though is that their view of the System, and the way that they should behave in fighting it, is shaped by that same System they want to fight. They seem to (un)consciously adhere to the stereotype of the starving and brilliant artist. And they tend to forget that most, if not all, pre-1800 artists were (for the most part) more or less successful business people also (or sponsored by very rich patrons). Which often means that they did a lot of “mundane” work to pay the bills, next to the brilliant masterpieces that they made.
    In my opinion you are doing good work, both in what you make, and in how you make it, even though I’ll not buy every thing, enough of it is of interest so I’ll keep coming back to see if you made something for my niche this time. In other words: I don’t like all of your songs, but I like your music.
    Keep up the good work!

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