Distrust Desperation

There is a fear that's present in every creative endeavor involving your true voice.  By your true voice, I mean that form of expression that is uniquely you; that draws on your own experience, has an opinion, involves honest likes and dislikes.  In short:  you're not hiding.  Succeed or fail, soar or crash, you are out in the open, totally vulnerable.  You could be laughed at or affirmed, hated or loved, dismissed or embraced.  This fear is legitimate.  I know of no way around this. There is another type of pseudo fear that can show up in creative pursuits.  I say pseudo because it's based on lies; lies that can sound awfully convincing. Another word for this pseudo fear is desperation.  Desperation tries to persuade you to forsake authenticity and opt for imitation, which, it argues, is a surer way to success.  Be careful with that word success, by the way; its definition varies wildly depending on which mindset you are operating in.

Legit fear says: "Not everyone may like this.  You may be misunderstood, mislabeled and misjudged.  There's real risk here."

Desperation says: "Who do you think you are? (Desperation's classic opening volley.)  Nobody cares.  You need to sound/write/look more like __________ (current successful flavor of the month).  Screw this up - and you're finished.  You'll be exposed as the fraud you are and expelled from the creative community forever.  First, get approved by the taste makers and gate keepers by parroting a successful (watch that word again)/proven/known artist; then worry about 'finding your voice,' whatever that means."

There is a vast difference between these two fears.  One is healthy and can actually spur you on to great work.  The other intimidates you by discounting your true voice and offering a short cut to fame and fortune.  Learn to tell the difference between them.  Embrace the one and distrust the other.

I believe it's possible to experience legit fear without becoming undone. Remember, courage isn't the absence of fear.  More often than not, one accompanies the other.  Let fear become a validation that you're digging in the right place.  Of course it's risky - but that's where the good stuff is.

The world is crying out for authenticity.  We need to hear your true voice. Apart from presenting a false self, it's all you really have.

The Age (Window?) of Creativity

A lot of people are saying we are in a new age of creativity.  I tend to be apprehensive over such grand claims.  However, based on many years of creative pursuits, I tend to agree.  If we're not in a new age of creativity, we are certainly in a new window of creativity.  How long that window will stay open, I don't know.  But open it is.

One of the chapters in my lifetime of creative endeavors was as a major label recording artist.  I even scored a few hits.  It was a wonderful time; a time of dreams coming true.  Hearing my songs on the radio, touring with big name artists were great thrills.  Absolutely, and I am grateful for those experiences.

I was fortunate to be signed to a record deal during a window of time when the creative environment in Nashville was wide open.  Widely diverse artists were being signed, and they were scoring hits.  I remember playing the New Faces Show at the Country Radio Seminar that year (1989), and no two artists sounded anything alike.  It was an electric, invigorating, special season, and we all knew it.  It was anybody's guess where the music was headed. Creativity thrived.

When some of the horses broke away from the pack, achieving unprecedented altitudes of sales, the environment shifted.  Understandably, the labels wanted artists who sold multi-platinum (millions of units).  Of course: labels were in the business of selling units.  The surest - and shortest - route to multi-platinum was to sign artists who sounded like the artists selling multi-platinum.  It's short term thinking, yes.  But in defense of the labels:  they're held captive to a corporate business model that's tied to quarterly returns.  If their quarterly returns are lower than Coke, Apple, Exxon, whoever; investors move their money to a higher return investment.   Alas, the marriage of art and commerce is tenuous at best. If push... no... when push comes to shove, commerce calls the shots.  The bottom line mission of these companies is the bottom line:  monetary profit. Judge it however you like, it is what it is.

The problem for us creative types is obvious: my investment in the work may include, but extends beyond, a cash outlay.  It demands heart and soul, time and energy.  As a father of two grown college students, believe me - I don't want to lose money!  But I want my creativity to mean something to someone.  And the best way I know to insure that is for it to mean something to me.  It may or may not mean monetary gain, but money is not my only criterion to measure success.

Which brings me to now.  All I know is this:  for the past decade and a half, the tools that have been available to me as an independent artist have given me the keys to the artistic highway.  Capabilities that were once unthinkable are now within arms length.  The cost of production, once prohibitive to indies, is now a fraction of what it was.  Distribution (making your art findable in the marketplace) was once the sole dominion of major labels with the muscle and catalog to leverage shelf space at Walmart, Target, etc.  Now global distribution is a few clicks away.

The only limit we artists now face is our own willingness to learn the tools of our trade and discipline ourselves to Do The Work (a title by one of my favorite authors on creativity, Stephen Pressfield).  I know these realities have been in place for several years now, but for someone who spent (did?) time in the old model, I still look upon this new landscape with awe and gratitude.  So much is available to so many.  The biggest impedance to creating and distributing our art has become our own apathy and cynicism - the new impedences.

These unprecedented opportunities do come with unprecedented challenges... But given the choice between these and the old barricades with scant opportunities...?  I'll take now.  Every time.  I hope this new window of creativity lasts.  While it's a reality, let's take advantage of it.  Let's create. We'll all be the richer for it.