Sunday, February 20, 2011


Here are two rules about opinions:

1) Don't listen to other people's opinions or take them to heart, and
2) Always listen to other people's opinions and take them to heart.

If you have a dream, don't let one person, or even a few people, tell you that you can't achieve it. Persevere.

However, learn how to grow from the criticisms. Don't take them as personal affronts to your character. But take them personally as an artist and rise above them.

I don't mean rise above them and ignore them. Drink them in, digest them, and let them nourish your creative soul. Work harder (and smarter). Once you understand how to embrace your critics and improve yourself, then you can rise above them.

But, stay true to yourself. It's your dream. It's your path. Only you can decide how hard you want to work at your craft.

There is a tough dichotomy here: do we do art for ourselves or for an audience? Who do we want to please? I guess that depends on who you are and what you want to get out of all of this. Generally, I think if any artist is in it purely for the money, they won't make it. That’s not who we, as artists, are. We are driven by something deeper. Artists usually produce art because we can't not do it.

But who are we without an audience? For what or whom does our art exist? We can produce art for our eyes and ears only. We can write deep, dark introspective songs about very personal moments, events and feelings in our lives. But that becomes a kind of therapy or psychoanalysis. And that’s OK. But, you know what? I don’t want or need to see or hear your therapy or psychoanalysis.

I think art exists for others. I know mine does. I want people to hear me, see me, experience me and enjoy me. I do write from personal experience, but I know that I'm writing for an audience (or, at least, that's my goal), so it has to be accessible. It has to have meaning - to you - beyond my specific memories or feelings.

And I’d love to make real money at it one day, but that cannot be my sole driving force.

How does one write a good song? It's easy. Strong melody, strong lyrics, and make sure more people like than don't like it. It's like that joke about the sculptor who was asked how he can carve such a beautiful and realistic horse from a nondescript hunk of granite. It's easy, he says, just chip away everything that doesn't look like a horse.

There is no magic formula. Just work hard and study your craft. And - as I've said before - emulate. Don't plagiarize, but emulate artists you admire. Then, let it lead you to your own voice.

So what do we take away from this? I don’t know. Philosophical arguments about art have been going on for thousands of years before I dipped my toe in this water, and they’ll continue long after I’m gone.

I recently read an opinion about a musical work that said it was "embarrassingly bad." I never want to be told I’m embarrassingly bad. I’ve been embarrassed plenty of times on stage and off. I work so hard not to be embarrassed or embarrassing. Why can’t people recognize their own flaws? I used to think that all of those people who are shown auditioning for American Idol and are shocked to be dismissed by the judges were just putting it on for the camera. But now I don’t know. I have also worked so hard to recognize my own shortcomings. It may be the hardest thing we have to do as artists. Nobody likes to edit. Nobody likes to scrap work they’ve done. Nobody likes to start over. But it may be the most important work we do as artists.

PAY ATTENTION. Study your craft. Dissect what you do. Develop objective ears. And always – always – get at least another set of ears on a song or project before you rush to release it. And don’t rush.

Please save me the discomfort of hearing your schlock, and I will do the same for you.

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