Illustration: Franco Égalité
In a musical ecosystem that’s seemingly becoming increasingly defined by metrics, does creating authentic work even matter?
As an independent musician who doesn’t have a hit on the Billboard charts but has managed to tour the world with my music, I believe creating authentic work is actually the most important thing that matters.
However, the nuances of what authentic work means can vary from person to person. Ask yourself: why are you making music? To become famous? To make hits? For self-therapy? For your cat? Asking yourself this question regularly will not only lead you towards creating more authentic work, but will also help orient you as you build your career. If you’re feeling creatively stuck or not 100% happy with the work you’re making, let’s explore some ways you can get out of your head and create the best music of your life.
Music isn’t a competition
As creators, we’re all victims of our egos. No matter how much we may deny it, most of us want to be liked, and we want people to enjoy our music. This desire isn’t from a completely selfish place, but more of a practical position: if nobody likes your music, you can never build a career from it. And with the advent of social media, it’s become easier than ever to see creators from all over the world producing and performing amazing music.
While this overflow of creators can be inspiring, constantly comparing yourself to everyone you see on the internet can create anxiety around sharing your own music or a feeling that you have to be better than everyone just to stand out.
This isn’t true at all – the competitive nature of music can be a motivator to improve your skills, but in the end, music is an art form and not a sporting event. There are no real “winners” other than the people brave enough to share their creations. Money and fame are, at least in part, the results of understanding the business of music rather than the art. That said, create primarily from your heart and spirit rather than from your ego or other people’s expectations, and you’ll find that you’ll attract the people who will support your career.
If you spend all of your time trying to be better than everyone, you’ll most likely only put things out to show off your skills but not tell your story (or never release any music at all). Don’t get caught in the comparison trap; most of the people who resonate with your music will care about the story you tell. They won’t necessarily care about your desire to be successful if it isn’t connected to the bigger picture of who you are and what you have to offer as a sonic architect. Everyone is trying to be successful, but not everyone is trying to live a truly authentic life – this is where the artist shines.
Be aware of the musical landscape you inhabit (but don’t be constricted by it)
Though it may be important to have a recognizable voice as an artist, it’s also important to not be afraid to expand in the ways that feel natural to you. The great thing about art is that you don’t have to stay inside the box. In fact, many people enjoy when something is surprising in new and unexpected ways. Channeling the full range of your influences will allow you to develop a unique musical identity that isn’t the sum of those elements, but rather a unique derivative.
Sometimes, when you find success in a certain formula or genre, it’s easy to become stuck there. You’ve sold some trap beats, so now you’re just a trap producer; you produced a beautiful folk pop album, so now you don’t do electronic music; you’re a ‘real musician,’ so you don’t use samples or heavy processing in your music. However, some of the most dynamic and innovative artists of all time are the ones who weren’t afraid to change their sound (Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, The Beatles, etc.).
Being a creator means you have the freedom to reinvent yourself and your music. Don’t be afraid of change – rather, embrace it and be open to the journey.
Don’t fear being vulnerable
Vulnerability is a necessary act of bravery that artists undergo when they reveal their art to the world. Releasing music means being brave enough to put something before the world to be judged, criticized, and possibly dismissed, all for the hope that it’s embraced by someone and that it has a positive effect on their life.
Although many of us struggle with releasing our music, we must remember that art is not to be hoarded but shared. When we relinquish control over our art, we also give it the ability to expand and affect people in ways that are beyond what we can comprehend or anticipate – this is a superpower that most artists have but rarely recognize. We get to assemble ideas from the immaterial realm and bring them into the material world. Whether it’s a beat, a new song, or an orchestral composition, the act of digging deep enough into yourself to create something new is a powerful practice.
Invest in yourself
The entertainment industry is a world built on escapism and giving people temporary breaks from reality. In today’s internet-driven society, it’s possible for some artists to break through the noise and become viral. These fifteen seconds of fame come and go extremely often these days. Some manage to capitalize on these moments and build a career, while others fade into obscurity just as quickly as their moment came.
I believe that if you want to go the distance in your career, the biggest investment you can make is self-investment. This not only means learning how to produce or getting better equipment, but also learning who you are and why you choose to create. Even if you make instrumental music, you can still create a sonic landscape that resonates from your authentic experience. By investing in yourself, you have the chance to create lifelong fans who will follow your creative journey.
As an artist, it’s important to think about your career as a marathon and not a sprint. Even if you manage to reach the level of touring the world and releasing music to millions of fans, there’s a chance you’ll want to slow down from a lifestyle of constant travel and studio work. You’ll need to eventually diversify your creative output in order to adjust to the gradual changes that come with things like getting older, starting a family, or simply wanting to slow life down. If you’ve made a career out of making authentic work, chances are your fans will follow you to whatever new ventures you choose to explore.
View art as a medium to understand your own life
Self-examination can lead you to a space of vulnerability that will allow you to create something truly authentic. This level of openness can positively impact the people listening to your music and inspire them to also live in a more authentic way. Sometimes, this sentiment can be intentionally expressed in the lyrical content of the songs you create. Other times, this is something that’s transferred simply on an artistic level. My favorite artists and creators represent themselves not only through music, but also via how they create visuals for their music, how they dress, etc. As an artist, you should feel empowered to use your holistic brand to express who you are and who you want to be.
Your legacy is hidden in your everyday actions. As artists, we can leave these footprints of who we were for future generations to enjoy. So, who do you want to be? Who do you want to be remembered as? Only you know the answers to these questions, and it may take an entire lifetime to find them. When you’re brave enough to release authentic work, you’re showing the world different milestones on your path to self-discovery. The gift of art is that you never know how your bravery will help and inspire others. Do you really want to be remembered as someone or something you’re not? Do yourself a favor and give the world the gift of the real you – you’re the only one who can give it.
Charles and his band (The Love Experiment) recently released a pack full of soulful vocals — check it out here.
March 11, 2020