Chapter 67: Painting the Severn Bridge


Photo by Lyndon Hatherall (Flickr)
Photo by Lyndon Hatherall (Flickr)

 

Dear Diary,

Anyway, as I was saying…

This year you’re going to be hearing LOTS from me!  I’ll be posting lots of gigs, lots of new recordings, yada-yada-yada…

Yeah, you’ve heard this before, haven’t you Diary.  “I’m going to write to you all the time from now on!  I know I’ve been shit up to now, but I can change!  I can change!!  I’m going to make such an effort – it’ll be like it’s a New Me!  You’ll see… pithy posts and witty insights left, right and centre!  You’ll be dazzled!”

Total fucking silence for 6 months.

But you know what, I’m not even going to apologise for it this time.

For several reasons.

 

REASON #1

I have been doing tons in these last few months.  It’s just mainly been in gigs, in sessions, or on Facebook, to be perfectly honest.  And there’s been a lot of the other life, the non-musical one, to deal with recently.  Some of it… not so good.  But the main part — building a new life with a beautiful woman who hasn’t kidnapped anybody else’s pets or children for as long as I’ve been with her — has been all kinds of good, and I feel no need to apologise for that.

 

REASON #2

I’ve actually been doing this website all wrong, I reckon.

There is very much a trend in blogging.  Large, thin fonts on plain white minimal backgrounds.  Short posts rather than long essays.  Big big high quality photographic images.

The teenager in me (figuratively, before you phone Child Services…) hates following any trend.  But the adult has realised that some trends are good, and are worth following not because they’re popular but because they’re sensible.  Short posts, big letters, lots of images… it all makes articles easier to read, and that is a good thing.  This particular trend, which I think is part of the Apple ‘clean minimalism’ ethic, can be taken too far, to the point where you can’t find the ‘On’ switch anymore, but generally I think it’s a good trend.

I have a tendency to write essays.  In my mind I am an Essayist, compiling a lifetime’s experience into a document which can then circulate the Parisian coffee house circuit and influence artists and philosophers everywhere.  In reality, this is just another WordPress blog.  And although the lack of artists and philosophers hassling me on the streets of Paris is actually liberating and makes me much less self-conscious about essay writing, I’m still aware that people are more likely to be reading my words on a smart phone in a tea break than in some intellectual salon.  So it’s about time that form followed function.

Also, short posts are actually better for ideas, I think.  Better for inspiration.  You don’t spend ages festering on ideas: you think of them, and you let them out into the world then and there.

That said, I’m going to sound off with one last essay, because sometimes the point takes a little longer to come across.

 

REASON #3

The third reason is that I’ve realised for a while now that making that leap from amateur artist to professional one is like painting the Severn Bridge.  Just when you’ve got to the end of the work that needs to be done, the stuff you started on is out of date.

Q: “Why is your website out of date?”

A: “Because I’ve been too busy gigging, but okay I’ll update the website.”

Q: “Why haven’t you released an album lately?”

A: “Because I’ve been updating the website, but I’ll record a new album.”

Q: “Why are you recording?  Why aren’t you out gigging?!”

And so on.

There’s a good article I read the other day by sometime folk agent Jacey Bedford about the things that artists and venue promoters need to do:

http://folk21blog.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/50-2/

It outlines the regular duties that musicians on the folk scene need to perform in order to get anywhere.  And it makes the point, which I wouldn’t disagree with, that artists need to work really hard to build up a following.  It’s true that you need websites, social media, mailing lists, press packs…

Now, individually, each of these things is not that hard to do.  But to do ALL of them, to a sufficient standard, regularly week in week out, as well as a job and all the other commitments in life, is actually difficult.  And expensive.

If you can get management then you can get professionals to take care of that stuff.  But until then… something is going to suffer!!  Gigging, recording, web presence, something has to wait while the other things get done.

I used to worry, though, that people in the music industry might think that I couldn’t be arsed.  That I’m not prepared to work hard enough.  But I don’t worry about it anymore.  Because anyone in the industry who doesn’t recognise the time and the money needed to just do this self-promotion game clearly don’t understand enough about the industry to be of any use to me.

And I make no apologies for the fact that my heart’s not in that side of it.  And by that I don’t mean “I hate doing promo – the bastards just want to take a piece of my soul!  I’m an artist!  Don’t they know who I am?”  I can do the promo, and I usually enjoy it.  But in the year since I realised Joy & Jealousy I’ve come up with the drafts for about 5 or 6 other albums, which I just don’t have the time to start.  When it comes to ideas I’m generally moving at about, well, 5 or 6 times the speed with which I can realise them.  The promo just takes time away from the stuff that I really enjoy, and that I’m now no longer modest about.

But the promo does need to be done of course, because otherwise no one knows what you’re up to.  But it is a skill in itself, quite different to actually making music.  And I feel I’m only really dimly starting to figure out how to do it.

Because the pisser is that you can work really really really hard, and do all of these things like website maintenance and gigging and the like and still go nowhere, because much of your energy is wasted on not doing them quite right.  Actually getting people to see your website, go to your gigs, and ultimately listen to your music, requires a degree of music industry knowledge.  It’s so easy to do it and do it wrong.  Or even do it, but not quite do it right.

There is a way to overcome this, dear Diary, as you are probably aware.

The secret of success in any industry…

… actually deserves its own rather large heading:

 

THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN ANY INDUSTRY

… is Networking.

And not just for the obvious reason that most people hire their friends, or at least people that they like.  There is another more profound reason.

It’s by socialising and talking with the movers and shakers in the industry that you learn how you really succeed.

Here is a big fat generalisation, but one that I’m fairly confident of: no industry works as well as it should do.  Each is so much less organised, less efficient, more haphazard and more random than it should be.  Each industry has its quirks.  You can take all of the logical steps to succeed and yet somehow still fail, because there are some frankly silly steps that no one tells you about.

Except the insiders.  Except those in the know.

Talking to the people high up in the business will give you that most valuable of gifts: it will tell you what you were doing that you actually don’t need to bother with.  And this gives you a massive advantage, because unlike most of your competitors you’re not wasting energy on work that simply won’t help you.  You can go to the right places, be seen by the right people, have the right portfolio in place.

So that’s all well and good.

But I don’t think it really helps me, because I don’t think (and I might be wrong) that for the music I make… there are people in the know!  Let me explain:

My interpretation of history differs enough from most folkies that about the only thing we can all agree on is that what I do is not Folk.  Technically it’s ‘Singer-Songwriter’, but that doesn’t include all the old music, which is probably closer to the genre of ‘Early Music’.  Except that I am often doing modern arrangements of this old music, so it’s not really like Early Music either.  It’s definitely not indie, because I never really subscribed to the mythology of Important Underground Music.  Although technically perhaps it is ‘indie’ because it’s definitely independent, but it’s not part of a scene of like-minded people.  It’s a scene of one.

Basically, I think it makes more sense define a genre by its philosophy rather than what instruments or musical devices are played.  And I don’t think there’s an audience of people with broadly the same philosophy.  There are people with the same philosophy, I’m sure, but I don’t think they all hang out together.

So if there isn’t really a scene that fits into the music I do then there obviously cannot have been artists who have succeeded in this scene, and neither can there have been movers and shakers who helped them to succeed.  I don’t think there is an audience that I can tap into with my music.  I think I have to somehow try to make the audience myself.

Of course, I could just pick a scene that does exist.  I could bend what I do to be straight folk, or straight singer-songwriter, or Early Music or indie or whatever.  But, Diary, I am sadly too up myself.  I have a strict rule that I only ever make the music that I find most interesting.  I absolutely do not ever make decisions about what to do with it from a business point of view until the art bit is completely finished.  And then, if it’s totally uncommercial and there’s no audience for it, I simply won’t release it, but I’ll still have the satisfaction of having produced something I think is worthwhile.

So, Diary, the long and short of it is that I’ll write to you when I can.  But I think I still have quite a bit more flailing about in the dark to do before stop wasting energy on the useless stuff and concentrate on doing the stuff I’m good at.

What I can do is regularly post pictures of cats.  If that would help.  Would that help?

Oh, and with Hannah’s help I’ve given the site a well-needed refurbish.  It’s probably refurbish that’s going to keep going for a while, I imagine, with tweaks here and tweaks there.  But hopefully it’s a bit less of a mess, and a bit easier to find your way around.  Let me know if there are any improvements you can think of.

Anyway, that’s about all I can think of for now.  Hope everything’s good with you in Diaryland.

See you in 6 months.

Winkyface:  😉

 

Ah shame. There would normally have a been a picture of cute kitten here. Guess your internet connection just wasn't up to it...

 

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