4 Things I Threw Away in 2014

Over the last year, I’ve had to unlearn some things.

Below are some tidbits related to music, musicians, and the industry. If learning is like constructing a building, these are the bricks that don’t fit anymore. They’re in my junk pile now.

I’m not even sure where they came from. I may have made them up. They may have been given to me. They may even have been useful at some point. Doesn’t matter. They’re junk.

There Are Two Kinds of Music

This one was easy throw away. There are so many kinds of music.

My two-year-old self could think of at least four kinds. Good music, bad music, happy music, and sad music. My 31-year-old self can think of at least ten more. I’ve grown up and learned more adjectives. And that’s just scratching the surface. My iTunes library count is almost twenty thousand.

Connecting with music is not a light switch. You can sort of like something. For example, I may love the groove, but only sort of like the melody. I may have loved the appetizer, but only sort of liked the entrée. I love Michael Bolton’s music, but only sort of liked his long, wavy hair.

Perhaps connecting with music is like a dimmer switch. But if there’s a dimmer switch for good and bad, shouldn’t there also be a dimmer switch for provocative and non-provocative? How many dimmers should there be?

There are so many dimmers, and there are so many kinds of music. Separating music into good and bad piles is lazy and a gross oversimplification.

The Business of Music is a Necessary Evil

I spend a lot of time on the “business of music” – emailing, booking gigs, cold calling, grant writing, assembling and sending press kits, etc.

Some artists hate doing this stuff. The business of music is evil because it takes time away from their art. But it’s necessary, especially nowadays, because this is what it takes to break through and make ends meet. The artist’s relationship with the business and with their art is always a balancing act.

Personally, the business of music isn’t evil. It isn’t necessary either. It just is. I love this stuff. Booking a new tour is exciting, like exploring new frontiers. I want to learn how my world is connected, and doing “business” is a means to discover this. It’s also a reason to develop other skills, which can be applied to other interests and make doing “business” more enjoyable.

I use quotes around “business” because the word can seem disingenuous and well…evil. “Selling” is another word with similar baggage, often associated with the untrustworthy used-car salesman. “Networking” is another. These words, in their traditional senses, don’t vibe with artists.

In an abstract sense though, learning business is simply learning how to connect. You can tailor business styles to your personality, strengths and weaknesses. You can find your “voice” in business so to speak. In fact, the most popular books on selling talk mostly about how to be a good person.

The jazz community has a special way of doing business. Selling and networking are done much more casually than in traditional settings. But they’re still happening in some form or another. I know a few musicians who claim to have no business skills, yet are some of the busiest musicians in the country. That means they’re great salespeople. That’s business.

Jack-of-all-Trades vs. Master of One

…or master of some, or master of none. Either way, whether used to compliment, criticize or validate, this is not a good way to measure oneself.

First of all, why is it necessary to be a master at something? Isn’t it acceptable to be sort of good at and interested in many things? Yes.

Secondly, what is one a master of exactly? For example, I make my living under many umbrellas – musician, pianist, jazz pianist, classical pianist, performer, composer, improviser, educator, entertainer, blogger, communicator, nuclear physicist, and much more. At any given moment, they’re all overlapping by varying degrees.

I’m not interested in playing the category game anymore. Or at least, I try not to start fights about it. Plus, categories of skills, achievement, and success aren’t fit for everyone. You can drive yourself mad trying to fit into a box you didn’t make yourself.

I prefer just “Master of One.” Meaning you. Best to be yourself, and find enjoyment in whatever you’re doing.

Jazz Festivals Should Only Program Jazz Music

I already expressed my opinions about this in my response to Mark Eisenman, so I won’t repeat myself (too much).

A world in which jazz festivals only program jazz music is a world where classical festivals only program classical music, and folk festivals only program folk music. This doesn’t appeal to me. But really, I don’t want to play the category game.

As an artist, I’m interested in connecting – with myself, with others and with festivals, no matter their style and category. If jazz festivals exclusively book banjo players, I’ll consider learning the banjo before I approach them for a gig.

Here’s a metaphor that works for me. From Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth:

“In the Middle Ages, a favourite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There’s the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time.”

Personally, connecting with myself and with others, in that order, is like riding the hub of the wheel. Trying to connect with a word, or a thing, or a category is like riding the rim. Our words, ideas and perceptions of these things change over time. I prefer not to go up and down with them.

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