Thursday, March 31, 2016

Deep Thoughts with E2TG

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My mind has been a swirl of thoughts lately. Being a writer by design, my best way to sort through them all is to write them down.  And since, I have this blog, I thought I would use this space to share some of those thoughts.  Much of this is about or relate-able to music. Some might not be... whatever... there's probably a song in there so I guess it is all about music....

Last night for whatever reason, I started thinking about the infinite vs. the finite.  Sometimes, my belief is that finite is all an illusion and all that is real is the infinite.  What I mean: let's say someone I know (for arguments sake, someone I am not particularly fond of) experiences some degree of success (or happiness or love), sometimes, my reaction is to feel fear-based jealousy.  "There is only so much success (or happiness or love) to go around.  That bit that they are getting is just another piece that is not available for me.  The truth (to my mind) is that those things (success, happiness, love) are in infinite supply.  That other person obtaining those things has nothing at all to do with my ability to do the same.  I would go as far as to say that, to the extent, I allow myself to live in that fear-based jealousy, I am doing more harm than anyone to my own chances of obtaining any one or all of those things.

This leaves out the whole idea that those things are all relative and esoteric ideas. Often the only thing standing in my way of success, is my own (often false) belief that I have not already obtained success.  This is not in any way to diminish the value or necessity of working hard and pushing forward to some better place.

So, to make it more plain... if a music blog that is not E2TG reaches some milestone of "success" (be it followers or page views or money or notoriety or whatever), it is all too easy for me to say, well, there go my chances of making something better of E2TG. And that thought process uses proceeds to focusing on everything I have not achieved and (at least for me) that path leads to remembering every instance where somebody slighted me (or seemed to slight me) thus reinforcing my belief that my efforts to date have been futile and a failure.

But, to unpack that a little, what if I instead acknowledge and maybe even celebrate the other blog's success while at the same time rejoicing in where I am at this very moment. From there, it is okay to acknowledge a little jealousy but only to extent that it motivates me to work harder to build on the success that I have already achieved.  Sometimes to do this, I have to find a way to really believe and trust that I have been successful up to this point and that that success will be a springboard to even greater success.  For me at least, this often requires me to let go of comparing myself to anyone else, letting go of comparing myself against my own expectations.

"Wow! 10 people follow me.  (it does not matter for this moment that 1,000 people follow Blog X or that I expected to have 10,000 followers by this point.) Those 10 followers make me a success.  It may not be the level of success where I want to land, but I have not landed, I am still flying.  Now, how can I get to 20 followers."  (This is hypothetical - I have more than 10 followers - I think).

The other thought is about the long road to peace after something painful and difficult - especially when that pain and difficulty was brought about by another. Embracing peace and letting go (that phrase again) of resentments and ill-feelings is not always easy - especially when the other party is continuing to behave in the way that brought about the pain in the first place. The desire to exact revenge or to gain some concrete acknowledgement of the past wrong can be powerful. To the extent that I am able to turn away from those ideas, I can begin to experience peace, but sometimes that is not an immediate result. Sometimes, the immediate result of choosing that path, is more pain. Pushing through that pain and staying on the road to peace is essential.  That is if peace is what I want.

Thinking about the state of the music "business" and the changes which have occurred.  They just are... is there a path back to how things used to be? I don't know, and I'm not entirely sure that this the right path.  I am a person who values art (which includes music). A popular meme compares the money we (as a society and as people in that society) are willing to spend on (for example) a cup of coffee vs. the expectation (of many) that a song or an album or a live music event should be free. So there is a whole other conversation to be had about how we reached this point - the fact is we are here. Now what?  Thinking about services that musicians (and others use) - like social media, streaming services, etc.  It is (in some ways) easier today than ever before to produce music and put it out into the world.  High quality home recording, sites to distribute music, apps so that fans can know when you are coming to their towns.

To get personal for a minute, thanks to modern technology, I can write Ear to the Ground and put it potentially in the hands of many people with relative ease.  Furthermore, thanks to social media, I can interact with my readers and develop relationships with the artists I am writing about - a bunch of them.  So, I have wondered about ways to monetize E2TG while maintaining my commitment to being a resource for exposing new artists and celebrating the incredible diversity of music in the world today. There are ways to do it (or at least try to do it).  I have witnessed sites who do all those things to generate clicks and revenue by getting bands to compete in contests and polls.

I have to pause right here and say that I do not begrudge or want to demean any artist who partakes in such contests - I recognize the potential value for the band. Think of my comments as a cautionary tale (with some first hand experiences and second-hand witnesses)

In the first year of Ear to the Ground, I came up the idea of having a poll to select an Band of the Year. To be honest, I was only halfway serious about it, and it really ended up being a lot of fun.  Everyone who competed seemed to enjoy it, and man oh man did my page views explode.  After that I began doing a Band of the Month poll.  Again, the first few were tons of fun - I think in particular about a battle between by friends MAKAR and The End Men.  The contest was spirited and a really positive experience.  Again, my page views went through the roof.  A few months along the road, I began to see that some bands took the polls very seriously and some didn't care or notice at all. For me, the focus moved away from the music and to toward the competition.  I started to feel like I was in someway using the bands to improve my page views but that the page views had nothing to do with the content of Ear to the Ground or the "art" of the bands I was wanting to write about,

Contributing to this evolving sense of unease was seeing bands that I had begun to follow who seemed to be putting more energy into contests and things of that nature than into their music. For my own mental health, I had to step back and think about if this was what I wanted to do with my site. It wasn't.

Again, I feel the need to pause - as I think about artists that I really admire who are or have recently been competing in various polls and contests.  My comments are not about you. My feeling is that if the site running the contest really cares about the artist and their art, and if they can offer something of value to the artist who wins the contest - more power to everyone. I have and still do vote for artists I like in contests and the like.  I guess, it is up to the artists themselves to determine if the poll or contest has value. (Thinking about it now, I might even add T.V. vocal competition shows to this discussion but that brings on more issues than I care to delve into in this already overly long post).  My caveat to the bands I care about is to hold onto your selves and your art. There are a lot of things out there - think of them as tools. Is that contest or that site or whatever the right tool for you now. And ultimately, the tool only has value if it helps your to do whatever it is you are trying to do.

Finally, I was talking this week about the idea of the "next big thing".  This isn't a new idea, but maybe the times in which we live have sent this idea into hyper-drive.  My thoughts on this are complex and incomplete and scattered, but here goes nothing....

Here is Nashville, I have often written about the mind-blowing number of excellent live music opportunities literally every single night out of the year.  This can range from Bridgestone Arena down to some small DIY space in East Nashville or West Nashville or South Nashville or wherever. As someone who loves and writes about music and who has friends who I want to support, the choices can be overwhelming.  What I am thinking about here - in thinking about the idea of the next big thing phenomenon...

 I think I need to explain that I am not trying to use the "next big thing" designation to put anyone down... so let me pause to unpack what I mean when I refer to the "next big thing" and where I think the dilemma comes in for me... Let's say Joe Blow  (cause hey Joe is a cool buzz-worthy name) has been making awesome music for years. They have played to small crowds at small bars and been amazing. Now, through some combination of factors, Joe Blow has release an album that has caught on really well.  Now, Joe Blow is playing a larger venue and it is likely going to be a sellout or at least a sizable crowd. This is good for Joe Blow and it is good quality music.  The question/the dilemma: is that large capacity show featuring the undeniably awesome Joe Blow where I should go or should I go to some small venue with a relatively small crowd to see and write about Jane Doe  who may or may not one day be the next big thing.

And that is just choice A and B - not to mention choices C through whatever... the fact is that I sometimes chose to see Joe Blow and sometimes I chose to see Jane Doe. (And sometimes I chose to stay home and write long rambling blog posts).  In both circumstances, I have thought that perhaps I made the right choice and in both circumstances I have thought that perhaps I made the wrong choice...  So... I told you my thoughts were confused.  If I go to see Joe Blow and get wrapped up in the energy of the large crowd - does that have anything to do with the music?  Is Joe Blow better for having achieved this level of success or just more successful?   There can be an incredible amount of energy present in the midst of an intimate show where you realize you are experiencing something amazing - and are fortunate to be among the few who are there to see and hear it.

In the end, I don't have an answer. I think I (sometimes) have an old school/punk rock mentality that equates success with selling out...

I don't think that the Joe Blow show is by default better or worse than the Jane Doe show. As someone who writes about music and someone who loves to go out and see live music, I think my best bet is just to be extremely grateful to be in a place and time where all of these incredible options are available. And to make my choice and find the story that I am supposed to tell about whatever I choose to do and trust that just maybe there is someone at that (or those) other shows that is supposed to tell those stories.

Wow, I have been writing for a long time. I guess I will quit now.  Thanks for letting me work out my thoughts.

Here is a video of the Michael Stipe performance I wrote about this morning.  It is really rad!

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