Releasing the illusion of control over who likes your music

Okay, so I found this courtesy of Jon Silpayamanant, the Chameleon Cellist (you can describe him with a Whitman’s Sampler of adjectives, and I like this one at the moment):

How to be Culturally Relevant

I can’t shake the feeling that what’s at the bottom of this angst is how do I make sure that my audience is only cool people?

What if I put my music out there, and people who like NASCAR and football start showing up?

What if I put my music out there, and old people start showing up?

What if I put my music out there, and unattractive people start showing up?

What if I put my music out there, and people who eat meat and vote Tea Party start showing up?

Suppose nerds show up? And not the cool Mohawk-guy-who-landed-on-Mars type of nerds, but the ones with bad skin who don’t have iconoclastic hair?

Well … okay, let’s leave aside the subterranean Us vs. Them judgmentalism of the above attitudes and just focus on the basic facts here: You have no control over who will like your music.

Just relinquish that at the starting gate. You can’t control who will like your music. Stop trying. Stop worrying about making sure that, if you are true to your artistic voice, only hip, trendy, attractive vegans who read culturally sensitive novels will show up.

You have no control over who will like your music. In fact, your job is not to control that. Your job is to write the music that speaks from your center, the music that you enjoy and that you want to hear … and then, to just let it find its own natural home.

Now, to some extent you can try to shape your audience. That’s what marketing is — you can play venues attended by people who you’d like to see in your audience. You can put flyers for your performances up in places that are frequented by that sort. If you write stuff with lyrics, you even can make sure your lyrics contain the requisite dog whistles for that crowd as well.

Of course, if you overdo this or rely on it too much, you start becoming insincere and insecure, which will generally turn off a lot of people anyway and make the process of creating your art a lot less fun for you.

So there’s the two horns of the dilemma on which you find yourself: You want to reflect your personal reality, but by doing so, you run the risk of having the Wrong Sort decide that they like it and start showing up.

But how does that reflect on you? Can’t you judge an artist by the people who attach themselves to their work?

Well yeah, a little. Tough. You have no choice but to risk it. We have little control in this life over anything but ourselves. Any other form of control over other people’s decisions and behavior is an illusion at best. At worst, if you get really insistent and rigid about it, you will become … well, an asshole. Of the highest order.

Just write your music, release it into the world, and let it make its happy little nest wherever it may. Shoot your arrow into the air, and become friends with the fact that you “know not where” it’s going to come down.

Because you don’t.

Codicil: How do I make sure that enough nonwhite people show up that I will look culturally sensitive and tolerant? Again, you can’t control that … besides, it’s obnoxious to treat human beings like poker chips or political arm candy. Knock it off and just write.

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