20
Oct
09

back from short break and musing on commitment

 A job I’ve gone for recently stressed commitment -they needed the definite commitment to work for a certain period. And that got me think again about my glory days in the band.

  

Back then ‘commitment’ was something I didn’t really understand, or I should say, there were several factors about commitment that I hadn’t grasped that I should have if I really wanted to get out of the band or see it to its full potential.

 

 The thing is, the band did all right -we managed to write over a dozen songs, play some of the pubs around town, and cut a 12 song demo (in two live studio sessions). I felt good about the musicianship -we all played our instruments well for the songs, and we had developed our own style. The singer had a good voice and had a natural talent for melody, and the bass and drums had that chemistry that makes for a really good rhythm section.

  

We had good comradeship and by and large have still maintained good friendships to this day (though the band is long defunct).

 

But those achievements were over a five year period.

  

And the pub scene during Sydney back then in the 90’s was super competitive (I’m guessing it still is today). In arts and culture, if you really want to make an impact, you’ve got to show extraordinary commitment unless you’re just super naturally talented.

  

If you’re in a band or you’re a songwriter, how much commitment do you have? Or think of it like this, is it worth someone else’s time to commit their professional time and effort into your art? How can you expect someone to do that, if you’re commitment and dedication is lacklustre?

  

When our band was doing the circuit, it was easy to fantasize about some A&R guy walking into your show, and at the end of it approaching you with their name card (seems that’s less likely to happen today). But if you think of it in terms of commitment, if you’re only practising once a week or every two weeks and you haven’t written more than 20 songs, how can you expect some record company guy to invest in that?

  

If you’re a songwriter and hope to ‘sell’ a song to an artist via a publisher, but you only play around one hour a night, is that the sort of commitment that will inspire a publisher to invest in you?

  

Sometimes we like to think we’re more talented than we actually are, that we can kind of ‘wing it’, that some A&R guy or publisher guy will one day just happen to come across our song and that’ll be it. We think our songs are better than they are, because friends and family compliment them and it sounds a little like the Beatles.

  

And we think this for two reasons:

  

The first is the fact that we’ve grown up listening to our favourite artists’ finished product. We fail to appreciate how much they’ve put in to get where they have. Like the Beatles cutting their teeth in Germany or the years INXS spent on the road touring the dingy pubs of Australia. We take it for granted. We think it’s just about writing a song, putting on drums bass and keyboards, going into a studio, and Bob’s you’re uncle.

 

 And the other reason is because we hear the media spin those success stories. You know, someone writes a couple of songs, sends one off to a songwriting competition and wins it, or a band of 15 year-olds flippantly go into a band comp after only being together for 5 months, and win it.

  

Sure, it happens, but it’s a headline-grabbing story because it’s the exception rather than the rule. And there are people who just have that natural talent or spark (or looks) that attract the music industry execs. Chances are you’re not one of them.

 And I’ve learnt over the past year, it’s better to read the industry books than the media hyping the success stories. The industry books -how to be a professional songwriter, how to tour a band, how copyright works, will help you understand the value of commitment, because so much of the music industry is about collaboration.

 

Whether it’s being in a band, or a songwriting team, you’re going to want to work with someone who’s committed as you are. It’s a lot to invest, and you don’t want to be held back halfway through a project. You don’t want people bailing out when the going gets tough, because that’s probably the key point before a breakthrough. And you don’t want someone making empty promises, failing to deliver their part on the lyrics, or put their money on the line for equipment when you have.

 

  I speak as a hypocrite, of course. I’m not in the music industry, but I’ve learned from the shortfalls of being in band. What were those shortfalls?

  

I guess at the root of it all, we each in our own mind had a different expectation and desire for the band. I wanted to give it my best shot at success, others I guess were happy to have it as a ‘serious hobby’, and that really was a fundamental difference.

 

The chain is as strong as its weakest link.

 

If it’s just a hobby, you’re not going to go the extra mile to get any better. There’s only so much you’re going to do for it.

 

 But I’m not blaming other members, the responsibility is all mine. I was just deluded back then, but it’s easy to look back with 20/20. The band wasn’t the problem, the problem was me, because I failed to recognise the commitment level of the band. I got too dreamy-eyed, thought it could be more than it could, and invested all my “musical hope” in it.

 Looking back on it now, I should have kept the band but just matched the commitment the others had to it, and collaborated with other musicians, worked on other projects, and perhaps taken up courses about recording or the music business. I should have explored other avenues, rather than put all my eggs in the one basket.

 

But the problem then was I was held down by foolish romantic ideas of ‘being in a band’ and I failed to see that the band was limited by its own cap on commitment, not the failure of A&R guys to ‘discover’ us.

 

Anyway, I’ll continue this in a next post…

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