Participation medals and living the dream.
I’m sat on a beach in rural Italy, tomorrow our fifth monthly single is being released and the sun is so hot I rush into a clear blue ocean to wash away beads of sweat. I am living the dream. But even without the sun pouring down on me I keep this mantra with me.
Seven years ago I left school to go study music at art college. I spent every day playing guitar, learning new techniques and writing really bad metalcore riffs. Some days the lessons would be slow, apathy would creep up on you and somewhere between your eight YouTube video and robbing skittles from the vending machine you would feel “I’m bored” creep from your lips. I had a teacher called Tom and aside from being an ex punk rock bassist and all round cool dude he would look down on us scathingly and say: “what do you mean? You’re living the dream guys! This is everything you’ve wanted.” I keep that memory close to me, whether it’s me knuckling down on my masters project or rushing out a recording for these monthy singles, it’s all worth it. I’m living the dream.
However, today (as well as getting a sweet tan) I read a post from Cyclamen. Upset about an average of 0.20$ per download; a post was put up to let everyone know what it means to be a musician in today’s world and how little money there is. I have a big problem with this.
You know what happened to musicians 40 years ago? You made a band, you played to friends at a house party and the band broke up. 20 people were your biggest fans but no one heard you and as a result no label came. No record deal, no fancy cars just a big fat nothing and a contract with a local shop to stack fruit. Very very rarely did a rock star pop up. This was reality and the dream was hard to find and harder to keep.
We live in a post internet age, one where aspiring writers self-publish on kindle, artists have their deviant art pages, musicians have bandcamp and spotify, photographers have Flickr and teenage girls have Instagram. We have the whole world on tenterhooks waiting for us to release our gems. Unfortunately this means that we now have to wade through swamps of shit, vast mountains of badly drawn webcomics, countless dubstep remixes, alt lit that is more embarrassing than entertaining and famous twitter users who seem to have nothing to say other than copy pasted cliche and photos of ab muscles. But I digress.
My problem with this participation medal generation is that we expect recognition because we tried. “I spent hour and hours, weeks and all my saved money on this, why do kerrang not feature me?!!” Just because you tried doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll spend you’re whole life searching for your sound, maybe your art is just a bad derivative of Titian or Malevich. Maybe you just have nothing to say. Cyclamen, maybe your music is worth 0.20$, maybe it’s worth 9.99$ but we as artists are not one to decide. We, as artists, are living the dream. Maybe it’s a dream that we experience between sleep and work, maybe it’s a dream that we can only slip into every third weekend but we have it. There, safe in our heads and hands we have the ability to create. What I saw was not 0.20$ a download but thousands upon thousand of plays. People from the whole globe connecting and experiencing your art. This is beautiful. This is the dream.
I will write continuously. I am lucky that in my dream I have 4 best friends. They refine my riffs, they inspire me and they pick me up when I’m at a festival and everything is just too meaningless. I love them. I also will use everything I have to make people listen to us and what we create. You don’t have to like it (let alone buy it), I would never expect you to be a fan but the few who support us with a download or tell their friends, the men and women who have been with us from the outhouse sessions to DOTS are my best friends.
Artists: do not expect greatness, pay cheques or recognition. To use my own cliche Van Gogh died penniless, Scheile died of Spanish flu before recognition (and after a jail sentence), overdoses, shotgun shells and hanging from basement piping have got to the best of us but still as a species we create horror and beauty. We fill the void with life. Artists: live the dream, no matter how short the dream is and live it fully, without bad faith or cynicism. We all have the ability to make it so we all will try. Just don’t think it’ll happen because you crunched the hours.