Sunday, 9 July 2017

Don't confuse "having a job in the creative industries" with "being creative"

This is an extract from an email to my friend Benjamin Belinska.  More of his work - along with that of his collaborator (and my very good friend) Elodie Roy - can be heard here.

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You will know the following from an intellectual point of view, but you must gain a deeper understanding of the following phrase:  "It is not what you do, but who you know."  

Please immediately tattoo it to your forehead (allowing for appropriate reversal of script so it remains legible in the bathroom mirror) and then proceed to bang on doors for the next interminable period of time as people in The Industry look at you blankly.  Or worse, like they wouldn't want you to sit next to them on the school bus in case you damaged their "cred".  

Only after this experience will you understand the tattooed phrase experientially, through your own frustration and lack of progress.

*takes a deep breath*

I'm speaking autobiographically, of course.  Don't get me started on those goons.  To me, it's a very murky, dark world - that of Planet Media in London.  I don't think you or I would benefit from me writing a three-thousand word screed here in an email to you about it, which would rapidly descend into very personal accounts of me doing soundtrack "work" for an Shoreditch-based production company in 2014, which was such a monumental fuckaround that I still cringe when I think back to it, and which I was eventually grateful for because it hammered home to me on a very experiential (that word again) level just how fundamentally incompatible I was with any of that stuff.  

In short, it's who you know.  And even then, if you do manage some "career success", it is on their terms, not yours.  Your job is to make a return on an investment.  The same way one might employ somebody at an estate agent, and hope that they make the business more money than it takes to pay their salary.  That way, both parties come out ahead.

I know that for you, the word "creative" is a sacred thing for you.  I know this because I can hear it in your music and in your voice when you sing.  It's a gut feeling thing.  

And I also know that in the world of Media, the word "creative" is definitely not sacred.  It is Something Else.  It is a way to a career.  A job.  An income.  A deal.  A thing that you tell your relatives about at Christmas.  A way to help you pay rent, or even a mortgage.  A category you tick on tax returns and an introductory sentence on every social media account bio you will every write.  It is emails, and phone calls, and conversations and talking and pot-luck and being in the right place at the right time, and being prepared and keeping a shrewd eye on expenditures and being on time and turning up and maybe even finding the few good souls who think the same way as you do.  It is most definitely being "in" with the right people, and being recognised and having some veneer of "possibility" about you.  It might even be others thinking cynically of you, thinking that you're boring, but sell-able.  It might be a maverick willing to take a chance on you and you abusing that naive notion to your benefit for a couple of years until it all runs out of steam, whereupon you jump ship to the next sucker.  Or it might be you working several jobs and juggling the gigs and the studio sessions and the rehearsal room fees and the amp hire around shifts and freelance work and session work and gun-for-hire songwriting.

But never confuse it - as I did - with the pure act of opening your mouth and singing / playing... because that is the real thing, and that exists no matter what - whether you're having a career in music or not.  It's something spiritual and can't be fitted into anyone else's idea of what That Thing is, to you.  It will refuse to go, like a willful dog being dragged by its collar.  It would rather cause your own self-implosion, than be compromised.

Which is why less talented people often succeed within the industry, because they are further from the source... so any kind of compromise is less painful for them than it is for those who have truly given their heart to the cause.  These people may simply wear "music" as a badge, because maybe their real talents lie not in the Voice or the Music, but in all the ephemera that orbits around it.  For them, it is less important.  That's why many of these "media types" have this eminently-punchable air of aloof, coolness about them... they look like they don't care because, well, they genuinely don't care.  (Though God forbid they should be tagged in a status update that somehow reflects badly on their digital brand - then you are truly applying pressure to the prostate gland of their priorities.)

So be aware of the difference between your idea of creative, and what "creative" is within the narrow outlook of the world of Media.  See if you can live with that Disconnect.  See if what you put out into the world is any way compatible with what's marketable.  See if you know the right people who will open the doors you need in order to make a living from it.  See if you're prepared to do what is necessary while still preserving, nourishing and cultivating your own talent.  

If you can do all these things, then do it.  Do it and do it well!  My message is not one of negativity, simply one of seeing things as they really are.  If you can survey this rather spiritually barren vista, and know that you can walk through it and still do what you do, then do it.  Start by meeting people who think the same as you and band together until others take note of you.  Leave yourself open to the wonderful, random possibilities that life has to offer.  If your heart is in the right place - if you are at peace with how the process works and what is required of you in order to engage with it - then the doors will open.  The natural laws of the universe will swing that moment of luck your way if you've got yourself lined up right.  I keep thinking of Zimmerman playing harmonica on Carolyn Hester's rehearsal session, and being spotted by Columbia talent scout John Hammond.  That came seemingly as a stroke of luck (and not one that would exist in today's industry, I might add - Dylan would need 100,000 views on his YouTube channel for that conversation to even take place), but Bob had pointed himself in the right direction, and consciously put himself in the firing line by riding that train over to New York in the first place.  If it hadn't happened then, then I'm sure he would've got his break at some other point - he was a weather vane just asking for the lightning strike.

Personally, I couldn't walk that path.  It took a long time, and a lot of experiences (that word again) for me to learn that I was not able to squeeze my song into a job-shaped box.  So I must find Another way - one beyond the remit of "job" or "hobby" or "side-project".  

Others can make that shoe fit, however - and who's to say you're not one of them?  Many do, and the world is a richer place for it.  And there are no winners or losers here.  Simply those who can play The Game, and those that - for whatever reason - can't.  I for one, cannot.  I'm proud not of that fact, but of the realisation... the realisation that gave me the insight... because it's my own personal Truth - and that's always a good thing to have to hand when the nights draw long.  

But others can do that dance - through various means (like being fortunate to make music during the early era of recorded sound - not something you or I can do anything about unless we have a time machine), and they are to be admired much in the same way one admires an estate agent, or a civil servant.  Well done that man, for turning up to work and doing his job!  Tomorrow night I'll see Radiohead in Manchester, and I'll be grateful that somehow they made it into the mainstream in a way I never could.

But if one is to judge on the basis of artistic quality, then all men stand equal in the subjective eye of the listener.  One man's 'Kid A' by Radiohead is another man's 'The Party Album' by The Venga Boys... one man's 'The Book Of Changes' by B. Belinska is another man's 'Tech Support' by My Attorney and so on.  In that scenario, we all stand together as people just channelling the creative flow in our own personal ways.  Do you have something special that no one else has?  Of course you do, you're you and no one else, even if that means being in The Venga Boys, or Bob Dylan, or - hopefully - Benjamin Belinska.