Friday, February 4, 2011

Why do music?

This piece is merely a short summing-up of some musings I've been having over the past few months, as I've seen my investment - of time, finances, and identity - in music steadily increase. If you're involved in art too, please comment after you read and let me know what motivates you to do your art?

As far as I can tell, the common reasons people commit to a lifestyle in which music - or art of any kind, though music is the field about which I've been thinking the most, as it's also the most personally relevant - takes a high priority, comprise a short list:

1) money - $$$
2) sex - self-explanatory
3) fame - being easily or widely recognized or liked
4) power - becoming credible or well-known enough to be listened to (think Arnold Schwarzenegger - for him, art (acting... of a particular sort) => fame => power)
5) God - for reasons of religious calling or spiritual satisfaction
6) personal artistic satisfaction - you really love your art; you enjoying singing, or acting, etc.
7) being cool - similar to fame, but with more of an edge: being a figure to which others aspire or desire to be like in full or in part.

An 8th category could be "success" - but I'm guessing, when questioned as to the meaning of success, most would answer in some combination of the above 7 categories.

Of course a lot of these could reduce to one another - money leads to power, God leads to personal satisfaction, fame leads to money, being cool leads to sex, and so on. But they are still distinct.

Why think about these categories?

I've been thinking about these categories of motivation as I've been stepping up my own musical output, profile, and aspirations because the question of target is now coming into view: I've started talking to a few small labels, begun thinking about who I want to make music for, why I make music, where I want it to take me - and where I want to take it.

None of these questions can be answered without first knowing, or at least having some sort of handle, on the issue of goals: do I want to reach 5 people, 500, 10 thousand, 50 million? What do I do when I'm reaching them?

When artists catapult to fame without answering these questions, they have public meltdowns, imploding under their own weight: you get a Marilyn Monroe, a Kurt Cobain, a Lindsay Lohan. And so the Korean pop world has a well-covered-up but increasingly alarming pattern of celebrity suicides. People who rise to fame, all the while viewing fame as the ultimate goal, are consumed and spit out by the churning media machines.

But when those who rise to prominence have these questions of goal and drive answered from the start, you get artists like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and whom it seems like Lady Gaga is becoming: men and women who understood the place for fame and artistic success in a larger picture of personal well-being. They are the ones who managed to use the pop culture/media machine while not succumbing to its ravishes - they may have been used in the process, but it was at least an exchange of sorts, instead of an enslavement.

So, for me, the initial question is: will you pursue music?

It seems that I have answered this question: yes.

The next question: why? And what will you do if - when? - that music becomes something - you become someone - people care about?

Well, let's see:

My self-assessment

1) money - this category is alluring, but ultimately, not a motivating reason. Whether it would be right for me to have significant amounts of money or not is another question: long ago, when I first began making music, I told myself that I would never have music be my primary income stream: I recognized then, as I still do, I think, that relying on the money I make from music is a very quick way to stop enjoying my music. It would be, at least, for me. I think. Whether this is true or not may be up for question in the future: at the moment, however, money is distinctly not the primary motivation for my musical aspirations.

2) sex - nah.

3) fame - This is definitely a highly tempting aspect of musical success, more so than (1) but less than (7). To be well known is intensely appealing to me, for the same reasons, I suspect, that it is to many of people in my generation: popular media has told me, as long as I have been alive, that people who are widely known matter. And hence, I now believe, if I am widely known, I will matter! More well-known, more influential.
As I think about it, I do believe that fame is one of the reasons that I would pursue music. As my rap partner/strategic consultant D-One has often told me: if no one's listening to it, why are you recording it?
There are other motivating reasons - 5-7 being chief for me - for me to pursue music, but I will say this: I hope that my music can become famous among the right circles! They may not be large, and they may not be circles that are well-known, but I do hope that my music will have impact on the right people (finding who the right people are is a topic I want to reserve for a future post - suffice it to say that they don't always look like the people you would have chosen, but they are the people you need to grow to love!). And to do so, it must speak with authority (which I'll touch on next) into at least some group larger than myself.

4) cachet/authority/power - this is part of my hope for music. As I believe my life testifies to, there are deep truths and realities that I believe are important to talk about, bear witness to, experience, and share in community with others - the flip side of this is that there is an intimate privilege in being someone with whom people are willing to open themselves and show vulnerability. In music, especially if you're doing the kind of music that manages to resonate with people on an emotional level, you are given the immense honor of both speaking into people's lives as well as being someone with whom people want to share. This is important to me.

5) God - Is God directing me to do music? I think so. I find personal joy in it (more in 6, below), I find it natural, I believe the music I do is not only in line with my faith, but supplementary to it, and I believe that my music is fundamentally about Truth - which, coincidentally, is another name for God in my understanding. So, yes, 5 is a motivation for my music: To remain a venue for spiritual growth and expression of spiritual truths.

6) personal artistic satisfaction - This is also a high priority for my music. I want to make good music. However, I've realized that I am also fairly satisfied with making a plethora of styles of good music, from love songs to old-school lyrical hip-hop, to contemplative new-school joints, and in between. If I could make a VERY WELL produced Far East Movement/Black Eyed Peas kind of party/club joint, I would be happy with that as well! So, personal satisfaction is a high priority. But I'm also easily satisfied.

7) being cool - I do think that being cool is, well, cool. However, as I consider this category, I also realize that I'm more interested in (4) than in (7): if people will permit me to speak into their lives with some degree of trust, I don't care very much whether it's because I'm considered cool, or if it's because of some other reason. So, I would put down (7), but only as a means to (4), thereby indicating that (7) is not truly a motivation for music, but rather a step to the true motivation, which is (4).

So, it seems as though my answers are: I am pursuing music primarily for reasons of (A) fame (within certain accepted limitations), (B) cachet, (C) personal artistic satisfaction, and (D) I find in it a puzzle piece toward my spiritual calling.

The next question is: what if I could obtain (A), but at the cost of sacrificing (B) and (C)? What if I could obtain only 2 of the 3?

If you're a musician or any manner of artist - which of these categories motivates you? Why? What are your thoughts on this entire topic/issue?

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