On Giving Up: How My Creativity (and Happiness) Was Freed When I Stopped Caring

Yesterday I received an email which essentially stated “sorry, Pandora does not feel you are good enough for our internet radio station…rejected”. A year ago or even 6 months back this would have ate at me for days. Instead I merely deleted the email as I would with a “Vi@gr@ at half price” spam or most of those junk joke emails my family would occasionally CC me on. What changed was with my last recording I went into the studio not to impress the world, or radio, or press, or really anyone outside of who touched this project. All that mattered was that I got something from this experience. That those who were in the studio molding these songs with me are happy and gained something from being a part of it and I guess that a few of my respected songwriting friends also dig the album. Well, check, check and check. Anything above and beyond that is pretty much icing on the cake.

I have been what I would consider a ‘professional’ musician for around 8 years now. For the sake of this article, professional meaning the for that duration of time people have given me money to sing my songs for them. Regardless of how much or how weighty that is in my annual income, irrelevant right now. In that time, I would say the vast majority has been permeated with the feeling that I wasn’t as good as ‘x’ person, or didn’t get as much press as ‘y’ person, and so on and so forth. I was constantly measuring myself against my peers or against people who had “made it big”… I have come to grips with the fact that I will never write a song as good as Ryan Adams on his worst day or play mandolin like Chris Thile. Then something miraculous happened recently. In heading out in the mountains, writing songs that didn’t have any particular purpose or direction or motivation aside from I have songs inside me that wanted to come out and just did, I stopped caring so much. I did not really give a sh*t who heard them, who reviewed them, or what people thought. I just wanted to record these songs for me and the folks that touched them and that was enough. I mean, hey, its great when other people enjoy your craft, don’t me wrong, but that was a product of writing and arranging rather than the inverse. The results of not caring was the most fruitful and rewarding collection of songs and recording experience that I have ever had…

I am not really sure what changes a person’s mind to make this dramatic ‘thought process tweaking’, if you will. For me, it took strapping a bag to my back, taking my wife and hiking in the mountains amongst grizzly bears, timber wolves and coming out to clearings with absolutely breathtaking views to pull it out of me. Maybe its just a little “does it REALLY matter if so and so reviews my album?” or something as small as realizing that not every single person in the world is going to love or jive with what you are throwing out there. Remember yourself, as my father in law beat into my wife’s head growing up. Remember why you create. Is it just that simple? Different strokes for different folks and all. Maybe I was always just oversensitive about the process of create and be judged. Maybe most musicians aren’t as susceptible to being upset when people ignore or don’t dig what you put out there. But knowing a creative mind, I would probably disagree.

Now, I realize this is not an option for many of my song singing, instrument playing friends and cohorts. Say what you will about a) being a full-time musician or b) not being a full-time musician. Everyone has their own opinions about this. Truth is, I know some full-time musicians who aren’t very good musicians/songwriters and I know some musicians who have other 9-5 jobs who are mindblowingly incredible (and of course, vice versa)…but that is an entirely different argument we can address at a later time. Many folks I know need to care…at least about how many records, t shirts, beer cozies they are selling or how much the next gig will pay so they can eat and pay rent. I can of course empathize with that situation, but alas, it is not my situation currently and so I am merely speaking from my own experience.

Will this approach work for everyone? Of course not. I will say though, that I am writing more, I feel as though I am writing significantly better, and I am feeling much better about more of the pages filling up notebooks that come out of me (less crumbled papers in the trash can is a good measure, yeah?). The EP has done well (Eric Lichter keeps reminding me that it is still a baby…), people I respect seem to like it, its only a month old and being spun regularly on my favorite radio station, and who knows, maybe it will find its way into some great mags or papers or hell…maybe even Pandora will change their mind about the songs. I think what truly matters here is, it doesn’t matter to me with these particular tracks. I wrote them for me and I recorded them for me and that was a truly freeing and liberating experience.

So, why are you creating music or art?

One thought on “On Giving Up: How My Creativity (and Happiness) Was Freed When I Stopped Caring

  1. This post came at a perfect time for me. Ironically, I had posted last week, a similar blog post about knowing when it’s time to give up. I’m constantly comparing myself to other singer songwriters and wondering why I can’t do whatever it is they seem to be doing right. Finally I just said, “screw it”. I can’t be anyone but me, so why even try? If people don’t want to hear me, then I’ll sing and write for my dog. She likes it, even if she can’t pay me cash, she pays me in loyalty, which is much more rare these days.

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