Three Zones of Musos

So some struggling muso says “this is my art. It’s a matter of opinion if you think it’s crap. I don’t need input, I don’t want it to be more commercial, it’s about self expression.”


Sure you can say that. There’s always that problem of finding that balance as a songwriter or artist, isn’t there? Should you make changes to your precious work to make it more ‘accessible’, more ‘in style’? Isn’t that selling out?


But don’t you want to make money from your music? Don’t you just dream about making a living from the thing you most love? Aren’t you underrated? Aren’t you ignored by those greedy and ignorant industry executives?


Actually, sometimes you may need to make changes to your song. Maybe those lyrics don’t do anything for listeners, only you. Maybe the melody is just too average. Maybe you need to work on your vocals. Maybe as a band, you’re just not tight enough. You can’t get the attention of your punters down at the pub because they’re too busy rudely indulging their private conversations.


As a ‘struggling muso’ myself, I’ve been thinking about some of these issues, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three ‘zones’ of music creators, or three ‘types’ of music maker. For want of better labeling, I’ve called them the ‘B zone’, the ‘A zone’ and the ‘X zone’.


Let me deliver the bad news first. As struggling musos or ‘hobbyists’, we’re in the ‘X zone’.  And the unfortunate main characteristic of this zone, is that we don’t make money from our music creating. But there is an upside, and I’ll get to the later.


The ‘B zone’ is the Business success side of music making. It’s basically what we consider 99% of the ‘music industry’. It’s music that’s economically viable, whether it’s Britney Spears, the Beatles, Metallica or some good-looking classical violinist who wants to sell us Vivaldi’s Four Seasons all over again. In fact it really covers all of popular music that can support an industry with pretty much no government assistance.


The ‘A zone’ is the Arty-farty side. It’s the starving musicians who have something profound and artistic to say but can’t get the traction of a big enough fan base to allow them to live so some organisation supports them with a grant. Maybe it’s a government grant or some cultural organisation, it doesn’t matter. What matters is some intellectual or cultural opinion leader thinks they deserve to be supported because of their contribution to society. They could be playing shards of glass, but if those in cultural circles appreciate and support them, they’re part of the ‘A zone’.


Often we in the X zone like to claim we’re in the A zone because we can’t get in the B zone. “Oh, I make really deep and insightful music, so insightful in fact that people just haven’t cottoned on to it yet”. We may not say that, but we think that.


Yet in all honesty we don’t really qualify for the A zone because we don’t suffer or starve for our art, and we don’t really have anything terribly profound to say without being awfully contrived. Secretly we just want to be popular, like a rock star.


Now was popular music ever really about artist integrity anyway? Only for those commercially success first, and even then does it really sell? Who really listens to John Lennon’s ‘Number Nine’ from start to finish anyway? That’s the track left out when you play the album.


The B zone is built on an industry, and without that industry, the artists are nothing. Commercial success is a necessity. And it’s not even the quality of songwriting, it’s the perceived quality of songwriting and performance that matters. It’s entertainment, and it has to be good enough to entertain the masses, otherwise there’s no money in it.


So it’s back to the X zone. But the good news is, the whole culture of the internet and social networking is affecting our culture of art and entertainment. We’ve becoming ‘prosumers’, proactive and interactive in our cultural pursuits. We don’t have to sit in frustration wondering why the music industry ignores us, because we can get out and publish/perform/express our music online anyway.


And the limit is only down to us and our dedication. There’s always room to improve, to write a better song and stick it up on Youtube, to make a better mix, record a better solo etc… Maybe one day people will want to buy it, maybe not. It probably depends on whether you persevere or not.


Or maybe they want the songs you least like –if it’s not your career you can be self indulgent anyway. If you want to do a 10 minute atonal metal solo, who’s to stop you? And there’s probably a tribe out there somewhere who appreciates your atonal solos anyway.  Let’s glory in our X zone!


Il4 solo change lives


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