Monday, July 21, 2014

Get Good

This past weekend, I once again joined forces with Hillary Hand & The Roseliers for a one-of-a-kind performance.

The show was for attendees of a conference called Via Affirmativa hosted at the beautiful Glen Eyrie castle right here in Colorado Springs. As I understood things, our set was an unofficial opening to the conference weekend, which brings together artists of all different stripes - painters, musicians, photographers, sculptors, you name it - and seeks to inspire them all to be diligent in the pursuit of their artistic dreams as well as to infuse their creations with a depth of humanity, spirituality, and intellectual & emotional appeal. In short, they want to encourage artists to be good at what they do, serious about doing it, and even more serious about using their talents for the betterment of the world in which they live.

It was a very compelling evening.

First of all, we got to play in a castle.

Secondly, our performance was well-received by people who could've been particularly critical and disparaging had they chosen to be so - after all, it was a room full of artists.  Instead, they sat and listened to our music and responded to it in an overwhelmingly positive manner.

After the performance, though, Hillary was asked to take part in a brief interview in front of the audience. They asked her about her career, how the band came to be, and why she does what she does. Somewhere along the way a question was asked that I myself got a chance to answer along with her - a question regarding the current state of our culture in regard to music and why people don't seem to listen or seriously engage with it anymore. Just what, the questioner wondered, are we as musicians supposed to do to help instill the idea that music is more than background noise during a shopping trip or workout session? What can we do to get people to listen again?

 My answer went something like this: Make great art. If you are fed up with the current state of the music industry and how people interact with the art form so haphazardly, then be the change you wish you could see. Get good at what you do, and then let God sort out the rest. You won't win everyone over (no one does), but you will help to re-establish the idea that music is meant not just to be heard, but listened to, if what you offer them is actually worth the listening.

See, getting good does two things: it shuts the mouths of naysayers & critics and it opens doors. People don't necessarily have to enjoy your art, but if you're good at what you do as an artist and people don't at least respect you for it, then the problem resides with them, not you.

Being good at what you do also creates opportunities to speak truth and foment beauty in people's lives. It bequeaths you with a certain kind of authority - people are more willing to listen to those whom they admire. Thus, being an artist can become a big responsibility. If people are willing to listen to you because you're good at what you do, you'd better make sure you have something worthwhile to say.

It's important to note, however, that the industries surrounding all of these different art forms will probably oppose you every step of the way. Industry & business is driven by bottom lines: they care about units & tickets sold, downloads, likes, shares, streams, views, and every other kind of verifiable metric by which to discern the popularity - not the excellence, mind you - of a particular "artist", band, performer, whatever. In many ways, this kind of thinking stands opposed to the true purpose and beauty of art. Instead of measuring the undefinable (which can't be measured... thus, why it's undefinable), their only concern is with the amount of digits in their bank accounts at the end of the day.

Do your best to pay those people only as much mind as is absolutely necessary. Don't let your art be driven by commerce. If you do, you will run the risk of stripping it of every truly deep and meaningful aspect it may contain.

But, if you hate what you see when you look out at the music world, then be the alternative you wish you could find. Reject what disgusts you and decide to take the road less traveled. Be who you are and let God worry about the results. If He wants it to happen, it will happen. But the biggest change in music and the arts that could possibly take place would be if the musicians and artists themselves decided that real music and real art - with depth and meaning beyond toothpaste commercials and self-aggrandizing award shows - is what merited the dedication of their time & talents. Being the change you want to see is the best way to help change actually take place.

So get good. Learn your craft. It will shut mouths and open doors. It may take longer and the road might not be as easy to travel, but you will always be able to say that you've done what you can to help rescue the culture from the precarious position it has placed itself in.

And that's a pretty noble undertaking.

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