Art Over Commerce: Committing to Your Truth

There’s a problem out there, and it causes great artists, musicians and songwriters to lose touch with their best work and even get swayed off course. As a result, great songs, that should see the light of day, fall by the wayside.

In the name of commerce.

Commerce over art.

Yep, that’s what the big boys are all about. Cause if it doesn’t make money, who will feed their kids? 😉

But you – you’re an artist.

And artists need to stand strong. And stand tall. For themselves and the future of music.

Artists make a decision for themselves, first.

Is it art over commerce, or commerce over art?  

If you don’t know, think about it. Really think about it.

Then decide who you are.

Then stand firm and don’t look back.

My bet, is that if you are reading this, you’re more the “art over commerce” type. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to be successful with your music, but you make music for music’s sake. Art first. Yeah. My kind of musician. Matter of fact, any great musician had to make that decision in order to have real power in their career.

Because the only way to really win this race is to believe in yourself and stay true to yourself. 

You’re in this for the real thing – right? Not as a hobby. And your audience is not stupid. Nope. They’re smart. And they like good music, not formulaic rehash. They know what hits them in their gut, what makes them dance or cry. It’s not lukewarm – their reaction or the music they like.

Adele has proven that.

So in order to make great art, you’ve got to be clear about WHY you’re doing it first. Then you’ll commit more fully – and you’ll be more courageous. Cause nothin’s holding you back anymore.

Some of your favorite artists had to make that decision.

Patty Griffin, Emmylou, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams are not played on Pop radio. Neither is Joni Mitchell (a big thorn in her side.)

They made the music they wanted to hear. They were smart enough to stick to their guns. Why? Because it means more to them to do so. That’s the only way success was possible for them. By sticking BY their music.

So if you find yourself genre-jumping – thinking that will get you attention quicker, the problem with that, is that by the time your music comes out, that phase will be over. The pendulum will be swinging back to what you just left…

Or sometimes artists change their sound after listening to the industry tell them what they should write. Here’s where that gets tricky. Because sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, real bad.

Ultimately, all musicians want to reach people, right? Well, there are certain parameters that will help you do that. It’s important to know what they are.

Like song structure (a 20 min song is going to lose people), and a good melody (monotone doesn’t create enough tension and dynamic to be compelling – unless it’s rap. But even rap has tension and release.) You also need lyrics that have meaning for people that are not too literal, and you want to use a good rhyme scheme. Etc. That said, you can break the rules as long as you know them (and we can tell if you don’t.)

But what I’m talking about is not the craft piece, it’s the integrity piece.

Are you making the music you want to hear? Or the music you think people want to hear. 

There’s a big difference. To you, and to your audience.

Those of you who have been in the business for a while may have started out in Category 1 but after submitting your significant meaningful heartfelt songs that no one seemed to care about, you naturally start focusing on songs that will grab attention – yep. You now find yourself more in Category 2. But that doesn’t mean it’s right – or wrong.

It just means you have a choice, once again. You can re-decide and recommit, because once you get a little further you’re going to say f*ck it and head back towards the music you want to make.

Hey, never forget, music is a moving target. Until you reach your audience, you haven’t arrived. And it’s good to experiment. Try things. Get your finger closer to the pulse.

Keep in mind that some of you are playing in local venues a lot. A word of warning —  sometimes your music shouldn’t fit the local scene. Sometimes you have to think bigger. I can think of a handful of successful artists that I wouldn’t find at Rockwood Music Hall in NY or Hotel Cafe in LA, can’t you? I mean, would Justin Timberlake play local? Maybe for an off-the-cuff performance, but he really couldn’t realize his vision if he kept that mindset.

And be careful of that – thinking too small. Just because you’re not “trendy” or a record label’s idea of “hit” music (which is actually following the commerce over art path), don’t let it sway you. You’re here for you, not them. And if you let their standards be your standards, you could lose out big time. Because what industry thinks is a “hit” is a formula from yesterday. Every now and then someone comes along to completely disprove it. But they didn’t get there by being a copycat.

Make a decision.

And then stick to it.

That’s how anything great gets accomplished.

And who knows, you could be the next big thing.


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