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Hope for the Common Musician

Published: Wed February 11, 2009  News Feed

Is an "amateur" musician any less of a musician than a "pro"? Does achieving fame & fortune mean that a person cares more about their music than someone who just does it for love?

Empty Stage

Playing in Wembley or in a pub? Does it matter?

So often, the usual perception is that an unknown band, or any "amateur" musician, is simply not as good as somone who's on the cover of magazines, packing large venues and riding high in the charts. An unsigned band is more likely to be rubbish than a band signed to Sony, Virgin or another major label.

The public often believe the hype and spend their money on acts that might not even be any good but just flash in the pan, while underestimating and ignore more obscure artists who might even be - surprise! - actually good. Whether this attitude will ever change, who knows.

But everyone - the music insdustry and the listeners themselves - would certainly benefit if more of us paid more attention to the music itself and listened to artists whether they're pro or not. And if YOU are a budding musician with little or no hope of ever "making it", don't despair! Loving music is the most important thing, as the following article illustrates.

[original article from Sonicbids.com, by Forrest Powell]

I’ll start off citing a source, surely to some of my readers’ chagrin: I was at church today (I even saw a dude from work there). While I was there, this great pastor mentioned something stirring and brilliant that coincides with my attitude toward music:

“The word ‘amateur’ was never intended to define a second-rate person.”

It’s a common misconception of our audiences and our age that “pro” is somehow inherently superior to “amateur. I think of all the musicians out there, working hard and playing hard and not getting paid, and I just have to grit my teeth, because many musicians who DO get paid churn out emotionless pig-fodder. Pigs will eat anything, and it seems that so long as radio or the “professionals” can polish a turd, they will never have to go hungry.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not out to disparage the mainstream recording community. Quite the contrary; recording is one of the best ways to safely deliver your music to the ears of music lovers like me or decision-makers like A&R reps. But what I would raise a little caution flag about is this: don’t get caught up in bureaucracy just because you want your deserving music to “succeed.” The obsession with “making it” can destroy not just the band or the musician, but the very music itself. Do you really want to change what you sound like because the people who buy over-compressed monotonous pop-jingles won’t buy your record?

Do you like your music?

I’ve gotta say, I love mine. It’s almost a relationship of its own; even if inspiration comes and goes as she pleases, music is forever there.

That said, sometimes I’ve got to wonder if we musicians and recording guys are as committed to the music right now as some of our predecessors were. In this industry, it’s really hard to keep a die-hard, passionate focus on one thing, and somehow marketing and survival have developed the irritating ability to outweigh care for art and craft.

This is where success in the bigger picture doesn’t just mean making lots of money. In fact, I don’t think it has anything to do with money at all, unless you want to invite something in to muck up your priorities and cheapen the deep potential of your music. I was on the Wii Internet last night and read about this sport in Japan called “yabusame,” which is basically archery on horseback. At first glance it seems impractical because the bow is taller than the man, and there’s this ceremonial garb, etc.

But in the “Blue like Jazz” mentality, you don’t really understand something until you see someone who loves what they are doing and are lost in it. The guys on horseback are not involved because it’s practical, they are involved because for them, it’s spiritual. Music is just that, and for me, getting lost in the mystery of perfecting a song can make me drool on my guitar because I get so focused.

Referring to people as “professionals” means that they make a living at something, just to be clear. I remember my first visit to Austin, Texas for SXSW, and the key emotion was this: inferiority. I was frontman for a 4-piece rock band, and everyone else just seemed to have their act together in a way we did not. Professionally mastered CDs with full-color 8-page booklets, 10-foot banners, the logo on the kick drum, that sort of thing. It was easily worth the drive and the price of admission, but there was this intimidation factor present that I think most of us probably recognize, even if you’ve never been on-stage with a bigger band. It made me pause, reconsider.

The worry is this: I am (or we are) not gonna “make it.”

To counter this reaction, let me drop a quote: “Nobody ever made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Thanks, Edmund Burke.

Music is not just a spectator sport. It’s a universal language and I am sad to say that many people seem to die with their music still in them. You and I are not that type. We don’t just need to listen, we need to be involved in the living, breathing conversation of music. We need to play. We need to rock.

So they’ve never heard of you before…have you heard of them? A consumer is just that; don’t weigh your hopes on those thin shoulders, or you might just hang your musical hat up and resign creative art with the economy. Success is yours to define.

And to bring this full circle, that’s why I am all about “amateurs” at the moment.

An amateur is simply a person who does something because they love it, not because they are getting paid for it.

Professionals built the Titanic. Amateurs made the ark.

Don’t die with your music inside of you. Even if everyone else thinks you’re crazier than Noah, please…for the love of something greater than yourself that is inside of you, build it and they will come.

This article was written by Forrest Powell at Sweetwater.  He is an amateur musician, amateur recording engineer, and professional sales engineer at Sweetwater. He can be reached on forrest_powell@sweetwater.com

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