So Ferocious (2016)
Hot Night
Vim & Vigor
So Ferocious
Lovin is Easy
Ravenous
Fat & Happy
Scoundrel
To Be Known
The Animal I Am
Fever Dream
Azalea
Laziest Gal in Town
Heavenly Thing
Two Sleepy People
You Don't Know What Love Is
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
Sweet Lorraine
Don't Come Too Soon
I'll Be Seeing You
Not Old, Not New
Under Your Thumb
Trigger Finger
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Smoke Alarm
Together Too Long
Backseat
Little Death
Lonely No More
Backbone
Idiot Heart
Chicken
All We Got
Honest Truth
Buoy
Itches and Tugs
Please
O, Gabriella
Money in the Bank
Two at a Time
Every Punch You Throw
Baby Can Dance
Crazy for Love
Promise
Anything At All
Ain't So Green
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Everybody's All Alone
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Lovesick
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Six Things I Hope I Learned in My Twenties

I turn thirty tomorrow! Here are the things I spent the last decade clumsily learning. I might well continue learning some or all of these til I die, but here’s hoping I’m done. 

1)         Don’t spend time with people who bum you out.

This goes for lovers, friends, colleagues, and even family members. Life is short, and you don’t have time to feel insecure, bored, angry, depressed or anxious. If you habitually feel that way in someone’s presence, locate the nearest exit and run.

Loving someone is not an excuse to allow them to bum you out.

This goes double for romantic partners. Either they need to stop bumming you out, or you need to stop being around them. You do not owe anyone your presence (with the possible exception of your children), and nobody has the right to make you feel bad.

Finally, it’s not important to have a rationalization, for yourself or for the bummer in question, about why you will no longer be spending time with them. Everyone has a right to seek happiness; yours tends to be in rooms where they are not. It’s nobody’s fault and nobody can fix it.


2)         The fear of failure can only be cured by work.

There is only one thing I’ve found that quiets the clamoring of the demons in my head (the ones who tell me that I am an awful talentless boring lazy failure): sit down, pick up the guitar, and work.

Drugs and drinking used to quiet them down, but then I’d wake up and the clamoring was louder. Success, also, seemed like it might work, when I saw it in the distance from the valley below. Now, I’m no rockstar, and I don’t own a yacht; but I do the thing I love and I get paid for it, and I’ve played some really cool gigs and hung out with a bunch of my musical idols. So I tell you this with relish: none of those things worked on the demons either.

The demons don’t care who I’ve opened for or how much I got paid. They also don’t care about any of the work I’ve made in the past.

The only bludgeon I can beat them with is the work I’m making right now, this very minute.

So when I hear them running down the corridors of my mind, scratching the floorboards and chewing the furniture, yipping about every humiliating thing that’s ever happened to me, I go find a quiet room, and I sing. 


3)         You can’t make people like you.

Some people are assholes, some are aliens, and some just aren’t that into you. One of the biggest time-suck mind-fucks I’ve ever stumbled into (repeatedly) is the one where I say, “Wait, you don’t LIKE me?? Well you must not KNOW me very well. What if I do this little DANCE for you? Wearing this gorgeous MONKEY SUIT? I can SING too….”

But alas, there is absolutely nothing you can do to make somebody like you.

Absolutely. Nothing. 

How many things was that, again?

Zero. Not even one thing.

You might as well get a slice of pizza and watch a movie until the sting subsides, then go out and meet somebody who’s not an alien.

4)         Scenes are for suckers.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time imagining what it was like to live in a creative hotbed, like Paris in the ‘20s or Greenwich Village in the ‘60s. At sixteen, I moved into an intentional community in Eugene with a bunch of other musicians and artists. Then I hung out with musicians and dancers in San Francisco, and later Philadelphia, looking for “my people”. Finally, I moved to New Orleans, where (I imagined) the streets were paved with songwriters.

Turns out, all the scenes I’ve ever become involved in have suffered from the same problem: they are petty, and gossipy, and rife with the sort of militant mediocrity that comes from too many people trying too hard to be liked by too many other people.

All of my favorite artists are inspired by a lot of weird quirky things, like some record they found in a junk shop; or a play by a Venezuelan farmer; or a thousand year old poem. They are not overly impressed by fame or hipness, and they are not easily convinced of the quality of whoever happens to be the king or queen of their local scene. They are good at spotting the kind of scenesterism that my friend Milton (quoting Randy Newman) calls “Big hat, no cattle”.

Being fully accepted by a scene requires you to suspend your critical thinking skills in favor of the ‘groupthink’ of your scene. This is the reason so many teenagers get involved in so many nasty, stupid shenanigans. If we are lucky, we grow out of our need to be accepted and liked by our local cool kids, and focus on our need to accept and like ourselves. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t look for people who motivate and inspire you, and offer you a sense of camaraderie and support. Problem is, it’s unlikely that those people will be geographically or psychologically localized. Have the gumption and persistence to seek them out, and be honest with yourself about who they are and are not. 


5)         If you’re worrying about doing it right, you aren’t.

This goes for pretty much anything worth doing: music, sex, writing, dancing, conversation, cuddling, and any kind of creative act. Self-consciousness turns off your heart and ignites the dumbest and most awkward parts of your personality. Trying to connect or create using your worry-brain is like trying to teach a dog to play piano: no amount of focus or persistence will make it happen. You’ve got the wrong guy for the job.

So, when you find yourself having performance anxiety, don’t try to do a better job. Try to stop worrying. Call a time out, have some tea, go for a walk, and start over.


6)         Your insecurities are boring.

All of us are plagued by insecurities, and haunted by their origin stories. Our moms were critical, our dads were absent, we got blindsided by loss and meanness and dumb bad luck. Nobody loved us the way we needed.

Now, we move through the world handicapped by all sorts of fear. We aren’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or good enough at love or music or hockey. We are bothers and hacks and washed up has-beens. We are lazy and perverted and everyone talks about us behind our backs.

But that’s everybody’s story, and it’s a boring one. Put it to bed and start a new one. 



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How Not To Be A Nice Girl

Something about me is perpetually sweet. Despite the tattoos, the songs about sex and whiskey and meanness, and the ferocity bubbling just beneath the surface, I seem to strike the average stranger as some breed of twee little big-eyed mammal. Every waitress over 22 calls me “sweetie”, every Petco employee insists on carrying my dog food to my car, and everybody’s grandmother wishes I would wear a dollbaby dress with sailboats on it. People I just met tend to describe me as “sweet” or “cute” or “so nice”.

I am resigned to being sweet, and cute doesn’t rankle me like it used to (usually). But here’s the thing: I’m not nice. Niceness is not something I’m into. I try to be kind, and thoughtful; I hold doors open, I give rides to the airport, I take my friends out for waffles when they get broken up with. But to me, “being nice” involves clamming up, putting on a happy face, and forgoing one’s own convictions and desires to avoid rocking the boat. 

I am no clam, people. I love to rock the boat. 

Let me rephrase that, actually. Rocking the boat is incredibly uncomfortable for me - it gives me stress dreams and sweaty hands - but I was born to rock the boat. Making other people uncomfortable is one of the byproducts of my best and most satisfying work, including many of the thoughts and feelings I have every day. Anything inside me that says otherwise is usually not me, but the years of be-a-good-little-girl conditioning that I accidentally absorbed from the air around me (in spite of my parents’ best intentions), like most women, in most of the world. 

If you’ve been smoking what I’ve been smoking (sugar and spice and everything nice, Disney Princesses, rom coms, etcetera), you may be asking the same question. What do we do about all the bullshit we’ve inadvertently inhaled? 

I think the antidote to this variety of bullshit includes a lot of real-world, large scale, external changes (like access to education and birth control for women everywhere, equal pay for equal work, and for people to stop acting like douche bags (and for that matter, selling them)). But I also think that we have opportunities to combat bullshit with the magic of our own minds. 

So ladies (and gents… but mostly ladies), I hereby invite you to make yourself comfortable in your own life. I want us all to feel that there is no need to apologize for the size or intensity of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, or our choices. 

I have a few ideas about how to implement this. We all got different bullshit cocktails, growing up, and we’re all equipped with different bullshit-filtration devices, so I don’t expect that everything in this post applies to everybody. Here’s some of what I’m grappling with, and how. 

1) Cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement. 

Entitlement has a bad reputation, and it’s mostly well deserved. I don’t enjoy being shoulder-checked by a trustfund dudebro (stumbling down the middle of Royal street texting, like a blind yeti) any more than the next gal. But there are some things we are entitled to: 

We are each entitled to our bodies, our experiences, and the choices we make about our own lives. 

When I say, “I’m entitled to my life”, I mean that I hold the title: I am the captain, the President, the head honcho, and the sole stockholder. Nobody else holds even one share. 

Here’s what that means: if I have a feeling, and somebody else doesn’t like that I had that feeling, that’s tough titties for them. I should no more apologize for that feeling than a weed should apologize for growing in my garden. Maybe I don’t like the weed, maybe I wish the weed would grow somewhere else; but the weed has no responsibility for any of that. It’s there because of the sun and the wind and the bird that shat it out, and the whole course of the evolution of the universe. It’s entitled to be there. 

 Similarly, your body takes up the amount of space it does, it’s shaped how it’s shaped, and it feels how it feels. It gurgles and sweats and aches and farts. Your body is entitled to do all these things, and you, as the Chief Executive Officer of your body, are entitled to these things as well. 

Your thoughts are in there, strung about like confetti after a party, and your memories, and your feelings. You are entitled to them all. You are entitled to everything that has ever happened to you, and all of the choices you’ve made, and all of the choices in front of you. If you fuck up, it was your decision to fuck up, and nobody else’s; and now it’s your decision whether to apologize for it, or fix it, or not. 

I can remember most of this, most of the time, but occasionally I still get confused. Who decides if I should get another tattoo, for instance? I forget. Is it my husband, who’s not particularly keen on tattoos? Is it my mom, who’s acutely creeped out by them? Is it the old lady sitting next to me at this café, scowling? Is it that one loudmouthed fan of mine, who insists on airing his opinion of tattoos every time I post a picture on facebook? Well, let’s see…. my body is the one being tattooed, and I am entitled to my body. Nobody else is. 

I have brainfarts in this area professionally and artistically, too. For example, who am I to write this post? I’m writing about topics that the feminist movement has been dealing with for years, and I’m not very well educated on the history of feminism. I haven’t read Gloria Steinem. I don’t have a degree in women’s studies – in fact, I don’t have any degrees in anything. But on the other hand, I am me. I am a human woman, and I have thoughts and feelings about that, and a blog to post them on. I’m entitled to my thoughts and feelings, and nobody else is. 

A lot of people, mostly women, pick up the habit of prefacing their sentences with “well I kind of think that, like, sometimes…” or another excruciatingly long and self-immolating prefix. To me, this says, “I have a thought, but I don’t believe that I’m entitled to it.” 

I hereby invite all of us to cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement to our own bodies, experiences, and choices. For clarity’s sake, here are the things we’re not entitled to: other people’s bodies, other people’s experiences, other people’s choices, and other people. They hold the title to their lives; we hold the title to ours. 

2) If you have a problem with the way you look, find a bigger problem. 

Like most women I know, my feelings about my own appearance vary widely from day to day (and from moment to moment). Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see a total sex bomb. Other times, I see a blubberous ogre. In almost thirty years of research, I’ve only found one way to combat that Cosmo-reading, trash-talking, mean-girl demon in my head: find something more interesting to worry about. 

The way we look is probably one of the least interesting things about us, and unquestionably one of the least interesting things about the world. Your head, regardless of its shape or accoutrements, is carrying inside it the most complex phenomenon in the known universe. 

So next time you look in the mirror and scowl, or see an unflattering picture of yourself, or catch a peripheral glance of your blubberous ogre thighs, remember this: the world is chock-full of stuff that is infinitely more fascinating than the girth of your thighs. In this corner, we have AIDS and climate change and abject poverty. In this one, we have the Grand Canyon, wombats, and Mary Oliver. Pick any of these, think about them for twelve seconds, and laugh at yourself.

Let’s all begin to consciously prioritize our own pleasure, satisfaction, and self-expression over sitting and looking pretty. Here are some tricks: 

Eat what you want. 

Food is one of the primary sensual pleasures that the gods have allowed us, and if you’re reading this, you are living in a time of unprecedented culinary abundance and variety. You can very likely walk out of your house right now, and within an hour be back at home eating oysters, or chocolate ice cream, or bacon-wrapped dates, or a grapefruit the size of your head. You could be sipping a mango lassi, even though it’s February in New England. This, my friends, is a fucking miracle

If I hear one more woman making her culinary choices based on the girth of her thighs alone, I’m going to drown myself in mango lassi. Sure, eat a salad sometimes, for health reasons or cosmetic ones. But other times, eat the bacon-wrapped dates, because they are a fucking miracle. Choose joyfully from the menu of your life – it’s long, and broad, and sacred. 

Wear what you love. 

Similarly, wear things that make you feel happy and wacky and soulful. Wear things that remind you of your childhood, or the beach, or mind-blowing sex. Don’t automatically resort to the thigh-fatness metric. If a dress makes you feel delighted and creative and full of magic, but your thighs look like overstuffed sausages, so be it. Now they are magic sausages. 

Don’t just sit there and look pretty. 

If someone snaps a picture of you doing something important or funny or inspiring – say, scaling a fish, or painting a house – and the demon in your head says you don’t look pretty, tell him to fuck off. Post that photo online. Instagram needs to be reminded that we are complex creatures; a woman can be pretty sometimes, and other times she can be happily (and greasily) scaling a fish. There is no law requiring perpetual prettiness, THANK GOD. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

We are entitled to our faces and bodies, however they are composed, whether anybody finds them pleasing or not. Post a picture in which you’re not pretty, but full of some other kind of light. 

 3) Become a sexual subject. 

Sexual objectification is a big, nasty, complicated problem. As women, we bear the brunt of that problem most of the time. Here are just a few of the things that suck about it: 

We objectify ourselves and each other

As alluded to above, most women (yes, even us creative, smart, professional movers and shakers and doers and thinkers) have a deep–seated conviction that we’d be better off in life if we were prettier/thinner/taller. This is maddeningly stupid, and we know it, but it’s all smashed up in our subconscious primordial ooze, with the Disney Princesses and the Nationwide Insurance jingle, and we have a very hard time rooting it out. 

We enable each other’s self-objectification by sizing up our friends (and enemies), commenting about their appearance, and complaining about our own appearance. When we say “have you lost weight?”, or “my thighs are getting so fat”, we are feeding each other’s demons. 

I’m working on this one by putting the kibosh on all appearance-monitoring of my female friends, and all discussion (complainy or otherwise) of my own appearance. If that sounds really hard (like it does to me), remember the wombats and Mary Oliver.

Self-objectification makes us dumber

Self-objectification results in a phenomenon called body monitoring, which literally makes us dumber. Body monitoring means thinking about how we look, imagining what we might look like to the other people in the room, fidgeting with our hair and clothes, and arranging our face and body in order to look more attractive. It happens so often, and takes up so much brain space, that it has a measurable effect on our ability to focus and perform

This one is tough to combat, but my current approach is this: when I’m in a public place, and I notice I’m sitting in a way that might not look cute, I bite the bullet and keep sitting that way. I’m trying to train my demons the way I train my dogs: no rewards for bad behavior.

When we objectify ourselves during sex, we don’t get to have sex.

Sexual objectification makes us feel that we are not the subjects of our sexual encounters. I’m using “subject” here in the grammatical, sentence-diagramming sense, as in “the entity that is doing or being”; as opposed to the “object”, the “entity being acted upon”. 

It’s simple grammar, folks: when we’re being sexually objectified, we’re not having sex. We are being sexed at, or in, or upon. 

So here’s my challenge: the next time you have sex, verbalize a sentence in which in which you are the subject. That sentence should probably start with the word “I”, as in, “I want you to…” or “I like that”, or “I don’t like that”. (Interestingly, it seems like the most commonly-depicted phrase of dirty talk uttered by women in movies/books/porn is “fuck me”, or some variation of it - a sentence in which the speaker is still the object).

Of course, sometimes, sexual objectification can be fun (fear not, Fifty Shades devotees). I’ve been known to enjoy a helping of it from time to time. I’d argue that if it’s something you can openly discuss and ask your partners for, you are in fact acting as a sexual subject. (When you ask to be objectified, you have to make yourself the subject of the sentence, eg: “I want you to tie me up.”).  

For extra credit: orchestrate a sexual encounter wherein you’re the subject. If someone were writing a story about the encounter, you would be the subject of most of the sentences (“she took off her dress” or “she climbed on top of him”). I am challenging us all to initiate more of the sex we have, and initiate more of the things we want during sex. 

Join me in the pursuit, ladies: we’ve been getting fucked for millennia. Let’s start fucking. 

image

Thanks to Kerry Genese and Lauren J. Andrews for co-creating and collaborating on these ideas with me. 

Thanks to Caroline Heldman for her work on objectification and body monitoring. Watch her brilliant TED talk for more. 



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New Rules for the Music Business

I launched my music career in 2006, after years of writing and performing just for fun. To my surprise and disappointment, I found that I had launched it to the strains of a funeral dirge. The Old Business was dead or dying, depending on who you asked. It was not yet clear whether there would be a New Business.

Thus, my business strategy for this past eight years has consisted mostly of guessing, experimenting, praying, and failing. Nobody I’ve met, no matter how experienced or successful, has had anything better than an informed guess about how to “make it” as an artist in the 21st century. It’s a strange and confusing new world.

However, thanks to some combination of luck, madness, and pigheadedness, I’ve been making a full-time living at this for about six years. And it’s starting to be kind of fun. I’m not saying I know what I’m doing, but I have ideas, and some people have asked me for advice. So what follows is my best guess at what the fuck is going on here. 

The Market and The Muse

A funny thing happened in the 20th century. Artists - known the world over to be fuzzy-headed, open-handed, penniless fools, with one eye on the sky and the other turned awkwardly inward – were forced to become businesspeople. And I don’t just mean that they had to handle money – I mean, they had to start thinking about markets.

Let me make clear for you how absurd this is. The difference between the concerns of pleasing a muse (which are largely abstract and unnameable), and the concerns of pleasing a market (which are largely concrete and quantifiable) are akin to the difference between a bird and a stone.  

When we serve the muse, we open ourselves up fearlessly to the woes and passions of the world, we experiment playfully and adventure boldly; we forfeit all allegiance to time, money, and external expectation. The poet Mary Oliver put it this way, “If I have a meeting with you at three o'clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.”

When we serve the market, we strive to make something “marketable”: ie: something that meets an identifiable need or demand, is understandable, and is most likely similar to something that came before it. We try to please the fans and the managers and label-heads, because they are providing the money. We cater, above all else, to time, money, and external expectation.

In short, the muse and the market are not just different, they are diametrically opposed. One asks us to proceed boldly, the other to proceed with caution.

But don’t despair, artists. That’s how it used to work. Then, the internet took everything we knew about markets, turned it upside down, shook it hard, and stole its lunch money.

New Rule #1: Create Ceaselessly

These days, instead of appealing to one big market, artists have the opportunity to appeal to any combination of an infinite number of small markets – which don’t even behave like markets, really, but like communities. Our work can reach these communities no matter where they are in the world, how old they are, or what radio station they listen to. And these communities are highly networked within and between each other.

In other words, there are now infinite markets, and infinite ways of marketing to them.

        Work ≠ money:

In the old business, every iteration of your work (every concert, CD, and photograph) could be expected to make you a fixed, knowable amount of money. Now that your work is being dumped into the bottomless maw of the internet, you can no longer count on it returning to you with a handful of cash.

A lot of artists aren’t ready to face this one, which is understandable. It’s devastating and terrifying to learn that the way you used to make money is not going to make you money anymore.

But let me state this clearly: the old world is not coming back. We can either learn to live in this one, or we can get a job.

Now, many of us have been lulled into believing that we already have a job. We do not. We have a calling. If you want to follow your calling, a steady paycheck is one of the many nice things that you’ll be asked to sacrifice.

That said, I believe that the problem of money is working itself out in some new and interesting ways. Fans don’t equal cash the way they once did (they don’t necessarily buy your records or go to your concerts, for example), but a fan is still a person who loves and values your work, and is probably willing to pay for it. Kickstarter, Patreon, and Bandcamp are a few of the models that allow us to experiment with turning fans into income, and I predict there will be many, many more in the coming years.

The trick is, they are not linear models. The more fans you have, the more money you can make - probably - but the ratio is not 1:1. The amount you get paid depends on lots of mushy, musey things, like how inspired your fans are, and how much they like you personally, and what they ate for breakfast.  

I happen to believe that good artists will always be able to make a living doing the thing they’re good at. Maybe not a great living, but a living. That said, I’ll get a job if I need to. I didn’t get into this for the money; and I’d wager that you didn’t either. Like Gillian Welch said, back in 2001 (AKA: the beginning of the end), “We’re gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay.”

      Two crazy masters:

So in the old business, the market was fairly bounded, and behaved in a somewhat predictable fashion. In the new business, it’s not, and it doesn’t.

We still have to cater to two masters (the market and the muse), but now, at least they are equally insane. They both require from us every ounce of boldness, passion and open-mindedness we can muster, and they both reward us in surprising and unpredictable ways.

We have to learn to treat our careers the way we treat our art: open ourselves up to mysterious forces, work fearlessly, and pray that we’ll be rewarded.

New Rule #2: Share Generously

I’m about to say something that’s gonna get me into trouble.

“Intellectual property” is an absurd concept that only a society of clueless, museless marketers could possibly conceive of. It’s an idea that serves markets, cripples muses, and is willfully ignorant of all of human history.

We are stealing from one another constantly and shamelessly, and that’s a blessed and beautiful thing. Every folk song is a mashup of all previous folk songs. Every film stands on the shoulders of all other films. Every sentence, poem and novel exists only for the creative gumption of all previous speakers of language, which is itself a collaborative invention of the entire human race. The whole history of human invention is characterized by a kind of joyful, infinite plagiarism.

Ideas are not commodities. They are made to be shared, not owned.  

That said, I do get the point. If somebody covered one of my songs and got it on the radio and made millions and didn’t pay me, I’d sue the bajeezus out of the motherfucker. If you’re going to turn my song into a commodity, I expect to paid as though it’s a commodity (even though deep in my heart, I know it’s not). 

BUT, if somebody covered one of my songs and put it on youtube, or wrote a song that was an homage to one of mine, or burned one of my CDs and gave it to a friend, or used a song of mine in their broke-ass indie film, I’d high five them. Why? Because there is a big difference between sharing someone else’s work and profiting off of someone else’s work. And it’s time for all of us to get real, real comfortable with the former.

(This, by the way, is why all of my music is released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial License. Read about it!)

The old business was set up in such a way that pretty much every time somebody heard one of your songs, you could expect to get paid for it. The new business is not set up that way, and in my estimation, it’s not about to be. But at this point, I’m inclined not to mind. Remember: fans are worth money, just not in a linear way.  That means that I am downright celebratory about people sharing my work. I want my songs to go out there and make fans.

        How to Get Paid for Sharing:

I’d argue that the most effective way to rig this new system in our favor is to create as many opportunities as possible for our fans to pay us for what we do. I think most fans are willing to part with some money, as a show of gratitude for the work that moves them.

When it comes to asking for money, ask with humor, confidence, and a sense of abundance. Try to maintain the sense that what you’re offering is valuable and worthwhile. In other words, “Please buy my CD, which is not that great, so I can buy gas” is much less effective than “I made this album, and I think it’s beautiful, and I want you to have it. If you happen to have made some money, and you want me to have it, I think that’s beautiful too.”

Also, ask often, and in lots of different ways. My ‘asks’ range from the “donate” link at the bottom of this post, to Patreon and Kickstarter, to the pitch I do from the stage at every live show (where my CDs are available pay-what-you-please). For more on the ask, I recommend that you watch this video.

In other words, I don’t require anybody to pay me for any of the work I share. That said, I make it really easy and fun and warm-fuzzy-feeling for them to do so. This has been working for me for the past five years or so, and it works better all the time. I’d wager that if you’re committed, and passionate, and willing to apply a bit of your (abundant) creativity to this endeavor, it can work for you, too.

New Rule #3: Collaborate Selflessly

Back when there was one big multi-billion-dollar market, it made sense to get a little territorial. It made sense that artists talked shit about each other, got into public skirmishes, and were reticent to share their resources. They were competing for their little slice of a very big pie.

These days, however, there are infinite pies. That means that advocating for another artist’s work (or even just tolerating it) takes nothing away from your own work. It means that competition within the arts is outdated and counterproductive. It means that we have to take responsibility for our work, because our work lives or dies on its own merits. That’s true of everybody else’s work, too – regardless of our opinions about it (and we have many).

Furthermore, working with other artists grows both of our pies. Cross-promotion and collaboration are perhaps our very best shots at growing our fan base. Marketing dollars are getting less valuable all the time, but “social capital” is getting more valuable.

So here’s what I recommend: find artists you love (artistically and personally), and make something with them, or for them. Send them fan mail. Tell your fans about their records. Make them a casserole. If you need help, ask them. If they need help, give it to them. 

Furthermore, if you need help and they won’t provide it, be gracious. They are fighting their own battles and have their own reasons. Similarly, if somebody makes work you don’t like, or if somebody you don’t like has some success that seems unwarranted, let it slide. What’s more: applaud them. We are not competitors anymore, and we gain nothing by cutting each other down.

We are all engaged in the hard work of trying to make something beautiful in an often-ugly world. We wake up every day and fight the same demons - some external, most internal. Every scrap of encouragement we come across is infinitely valuable. We may be an introverted, neurotic, solitary bunch, but we need each other.

This is good business, but more than that, it’s good living. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to do this work if it means my heart has to shrivel up like a prune. I make music because music breaks me open to infinity and God and magic and all manner of foolish feelings. If that stops happening, I’ll quit. Until then, I plan to share those feelings with every artist who happens to incite them, and say THANK YOU to every one of my comrades who provides inspiration or encouragement or help or hope or humor (for example, The Wood Brothers, Devon Sproule, Milton, Anais Mitchell, Chris Kasper, Peter Mulvey, Vienna Teng, The Weepies, Seth Walker, Mark Erelli, Shovels & Rope, and David Torkanowsky. To name a few).

New Rule #4 (the most important rule): Be Grateful.

Keep this in mind at all times. It is a blessing to be a creative person. It is a luxury and a privilege to have a calling, to know what it is, and to have a shot at pursuing it. Fame and fortune are a completely ludicrous expectation, and we don’t deserve them. We don’t even deserve to live above the poverty line (at least, no more than anyone else does). 

Whatever bullshit, boring thing you have to do to make it work - be it hooking, tweeting, waiting tables, driving 60,000 miles a year - make peace with it. When you feel bitterness or disappointment nibbling at your heart, fend them off the way you always have: sing, play, and write. 

The world gave you your muse. It has already done right by you, and it owes you nothing else. 


So, let’s review.

The New Rules: 

1)        Create ceaselessly. Approach your career like another aspect of your art: it requires constant inspiration and experimentation, and provides unpredictable rewards.

2)         Share generously. As soon as it’s out of you, it belongs to the world. Write the song, record it, bless and release. Then, make it really, really easy for people who love it to give you money.

3)         Collaborate selflessly. Make friends with artists whose work you love. Make yourself available to them, and ask them for help. When they help or inspire you, be enthusiastically, vocally grateful. When they don’t, be gracious. Let your heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living (joyfully plagiarized from e. e. cummings). 

4)         Be Grateful. You are a lucky bastard, whether or not you ever sell a single record or ticket. When it’s not working the way you want it to, fall to your knees and give thanks for your ears and your muse and the infinite gifts of creating.

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