Did you catch last week’s entry? The one about Mahler’s fifth? Did it leave you with a distinct feeling of “why bother?”. Why spend all that time crafting an experience in sound if only to be left disheartened by the response of the community? Why invest so much time and money in training these skills only for them to be diminished when finally applied in an ‘appropriate’ context? Being creative seems, on the surface at least, like a wholly inefficient use of time, with near zero return (economic or otherwise) for all those countless nights slaving over chord voicings. So why bother? That d*mn question is always there, hovering on the periphery when yet another longed-for outcome collapses, bringing into sharp focus your status as a nobody. A drain on the community, issuing missives of negative culture that suck the oxygen from any room unfortunate enough to hear them. “Just give up” says the voice, “it’d be better in the long run”. But no sooner do these words form in the mind than you remember that, actually, that’s the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. Ever. You’re not a nobody, a fact you feel so strongly that even your cells shudder with a righteous fury. You are skilled and you are unique. All this will pass, your win is coming. So, just dust yourself off, take a breath, and start writing again. It’s not the prettiest process to live through (taking you to dark places if you’re not careful) but if anything, this cycle of expectation and rejection can make for compelling subject matter.
I really should have listened to Reuben when I was younger. I mean, demographically speaking (angsty-middle-class-home-counties-bass-player) this should have been the easiest of sells. Yet despite a deep love of the Reuben-adjacent band Hundred Reasons, it took the advent of Spotify for me to finally “discover” the self-reflective genius of this utterly brilliant band. “What do you mean, self-reflective?” I hear you say. Well, there are two strands to my belief that Reuben were hands down the best band of their generation. The first holds that the music is devastatingly good, varied, and mature. Hard when it needs to be hard, soft when it needs to be soft, but always creatively restless. The second holds that the lyrics are like nothing else in music, a real time deconstruction of the musical experience from the perspective of a practitioner. There are no metaphors, just the crushing bluntness of Jamie Lenman’s career expectations and rejections wrapped up in sing-along choruses and screams of rage. Self-reflective, innit.
Frank Turner once declared Freddy Kreuger the best song ever written about being in a band. I’d go one further and say that it’s the best song written about being a musician, at least an aspirant one. When I was 15, I swear it looked so easy, you go out and you get paid. Yup, been there. My first gig was 2 days before my 16th birthday and I just knew that one of the adults in the crowd would see our potential and book us a gig in London, with the adulation of millions promptly ensuing. Chalk it up to youthful naïvité, but when, many years later, my songs started getting radio play on BBC 6 Music and I still wasn’t getting paid, that’s when I knew the system is broken. I should have heeded the lyrics of Reuben, especially those within Freddy Kreuger, lucidly detailing this broken system fuelled by idealism and hope. Dig a little deeper and you realise Reuben did everything right. They built a loyal following, played all the right clubs, even produced some utterly exceptional self-made music videos. But it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. The strain between recording, touring, and working “real” jobs became too much, come 2008 and they were on indefinite hiatus. The broken system breaking them.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to mock the aspirant musician raging against the system ultimately responsible for their income. But attempts to do so forget that these systems, omnipresent as they appear, built themselves fairly recently around a pre-existing culture, with the single purpose to exploit the creative purpose for economic gain. Humans have always felt the need to express themselves through sound, its literally what language is, but the commodification of it is relatively new. This is where the rage comes, as something so natural and unstoppable, that need to create, gets sieved through a self-appointed system that promises the world if only you conform. Not in any stylistic sense (after all, Limp Bizkit earned a living), but in the industrial sense. If, having acquiesced to everything the industry requires, you still find your work unsustainable, then anger and frustration are understandable. Inevitable, even. Because expression was here first, it should be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves.
Why bother? Because.
I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:
Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.