“It’s not What you know, it’s Who you know”.
I chose to ignore this advice, like many a gutsy idealistic muso, for the first half of my career. I found it hard to connect with people. So instead I convinced myself that if I wanted to succeed, I just had to be better. It’s difficult to shake that off. Greatness and Beauty cannot exist in a vacuum – like the Little Prince’s rose.
The truth is: connections matter.
What this depressing platitude conveniently leaves out, however, is the part where that “who” has to actually like you, respect you, be inspired by you enough to want to jump aboard your speeding freight train of a career. The music industry is deeply nepotistic. We need each other to thrive and ‘people-people’ get ahead in life because they are easy to work with. Other people want them around. It’s not complicated. Too many remarkable artists toil away a lifetime in obscurity because they neglect this simple reality; that other people exist independent of their interest in your music. Too many artists have equated their talent with self-worth, and vice versa. Putting yourself on a pedestal is almost as bad as other people doing it for you. I can state categorically that I wouldn’t be where I am without 94.2% of the people in my life. The rest is grit and luck. People are, and should be, your most prized and protected investment.
So in effect, this is an open letter to every self-entitled tortured genius, toiling in obscurity for lack of public acclaim. You can be a ‘dark horse’ and still make the tea…
Even if your music speaks to the profound scepticism in people’s hearts on your behalf – you need to be able to connect with people one-on-one to get that music play-listed on the radio, to get people to your shows, to get your tour off the ground. Introspective anthems like Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and Deacon Blue’s ‘Real Gone Kid’ epitomize that sceptical emptiness felt by the disenfranchised, disillusioned and disinterested. Jumping genres for a moment, Whitney Houston’s “Dance With Somebody” inspires that same existential angst because it appeals to our need for connection without specificity. The eponymous “somebody’” is faceless, nameless and without agenda. They just want to dance with you. Avril Lavigne’s “With You” states unabashedly “I don’t know who you are but I’m with you”.
But none of them – not Radiohead, nor Deacon Blue, nor Whitney, Avril, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, Funeral For A Friend or Papa Roach came to fame by virtue of their angsty lyrics alone. They connected along the way with a canon of industry professionals to realise their goals. Can you guess how many paid positions there are between an unsigned bedroom artist and a Platinum-selling megastar? Producers, graphic designers, web technicians, management, publicists, touring and television agents, marketing campaigners, choreographers, stage crew, sponsors, caterers… and even if you left out a handle of these relatively mandatory collaborators, there’s still a truckload of people you need to ‘get onside’… not least of which are the FANS.
Perhaps it’s because music connects us so readily to the great unknowable ether, that musos all too often neglect those ‘uninitiated’ souls, tethered to the as-yet unconquered silence. Lest we forget that those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
So you need to connect. And no, a deliberately ‘distanced’, mildly self-effacing and impersonal post about your music on social media is not enough. Other people are real too. They are not just empty vessels waiting to be filled by your musings or led by your whimsy. Ironically, the dissemination of social media has left an entire generation feeling more isolated than ever before. Our connections are entirely tokenistic. A proud white thumb protruding from a sad blue sleeve. 8-bit hearts don’t beat. “I like it” means “I clicked it”. It’s all abstract with none of the chemical exchange. Other people are real. By virtue of their realness, they deserve something real in return.
Take any one of my live videos and pause it at random. My face is a probably jumbled mess worthy of Picasso. That’s because, about 10 years ago, I stopped worrying about what my face was doing while I sang. Consciously keeping a check on your passion is just another barrier between us and them. We could talk forever about ‘resonance’ and the ebb and flow of universal vibration but on a basic human level: don’t lie to your audience. Give them everything. People need to be able to see into you, and straight through you if necessary. Even if you’re empty. Show them. I’d rather watch a ghost than a mechanical clown. You need to present your jugular for the crowd. You don’t deserve to be on that stage if you’re not willing to die on it too.
Whatever your religious or spiritual inclination or lack thereof, the ‘interconnectedness’ of all things is truth a the universe holds self-evident. As a devout atheist myself, I am of the bleak but beautiful opinion that there is no purpose besides that which we engineer for ourselves – and no meaning beyond the meaning we find in each other.