Words & Music

by monicadockery

The Choice…

Photo on 1-12-13 at 12.49 AM

There are many choices music-makers must make.  Which guitar to buy, which software, which gigs to take and which ones to drop, and so on and so forth.  There is another choice music-makers must make that you may or may not be familiar with.  It is this:  do I make music for me OR for them?  In other words, where should my loyalties lie — to my own heart or to the tastes of others.  It may seem an easy pick for some, but given a closer look…it may not be as black and white as you think.  Let me explain.

If someone chooses the former – their own heart – and they make music without ANY regard for the listener, what could be the result?  Well, for certain, they would be making music that they truly love and that comes from a pure place.  They would be happy, right?  But…what if the music that they truly love is great to them and a core group of fans, but does not crossover to the masses?  As it is for most people who are creators (generally), that person’s joy would be tempered by the fact that they weren’t able to share their creations with as many people as possible.  Music is a message, something one wants to say, if no one hears the message…well.  In addition to not having a means with which to disseminate your soul’s message to the world, you may also not have the means to pay your bills (or have much clout as far as status goes).  An unfortunate downside of capitalism is, if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have money.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all got paid just because we created something?  But c’est la vie, that is not the world we live in.

Which brings me to the other side of the – coin; choosing to make music for others.  For the very reasons listed above, many many many have chosen to compromise or – forsake altogether – their true, deep, heart songs for a much more accessible version.  The story lines get vague, universal, and – at times – shallow… enough for everyone to be able to stand in the water.  This translates to more listeners and more financial and status-related rewards.  May even get you the I-Ching of music awards – a Grammy.  However, with what you gain in funds and social rank, you may lose in conscience.  You know you are making music that has been toned down or has been gently painted over by someone else.  You wish you were free to just “do your thing” and not care what any other person has to say about it.  But, if you did that, that would bring you right back to where we first started.  Vicious cycle.  Complex choice.

Told ya – not so easy.  I bet you can think of people you know who have made either choice and I bet that if you sat down with them and had a conversation, this stuff would eventually show up. Now some may say there are plenty of people who did not have to make the choice between the two.  That they were able to make PURE music AND have widespread acceptance and success.  One may bring up Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Bjork.  True, these clearly made music that was true to themselves and they had HUGE audiences and financial gain.  Well….kinda.  They did have producers who added a little of this and took a little of that out, right?  Is that not a compromise of sorts (though minimal).  Furthermore, these cases are rare and specific to timing and favorable conditions.

So….hmmm.  What do we do?  What choice do we make if in either choice we are bound to betray ourselves?  Can we look down on people like _______ (fill in the blank) or others who’ve gone to great lengths to make music that appeals to the masses but may not be 100% true to who they really are?  It is a tough choice, even more so for those who come from “da streets” and are just trying to survive and get out or from a broken home and are just trying to find people that love you.  You may be wondering what I chose.  Well….I have made absolutely 0 dollars off of any song I ever made.  Let’s leave it at that;).  How about you?  Agree/Disagree?  What choice did you make?

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2 thoughts on “The Choice…

  1. Monica, You make a persuasive case for socialism, from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs! Especially when it comes to art!

    To the question at hand, I make the music I make because it is what is in me. I can no more change that than change my accent convincingly. I could not produce a convincing rap, as I am in all respects the wrong person to do so, but more importantly, it is not music that speaks to me, in that I don’t get it… but nor am I meant to. The average rapper has never had me in mind as an audience.

    We know that those who change for commercial reasons, such as Taylor Swift and Madonna are cynical manipulators of their audience, and for some reason that audience is masochistic enough to keep paying for the pleasure of that pain. Throughout this though, they and we are all aware of the slight of hand, the change of accent, the pretence and the sham. In Madonna it is even celebrated. A reflection perhaps of our throw away society; she is allowed to recycle herself to remind us that we can dispose of her whenever we choose? In this is there is some semblance of control for the fan? Is it a form of sadism even? I digress!

    There are others, such as Scott Walker who walked (sic) away from fame and fortune at the height of his career and has since then produced only only a handful of albums of increasingly challenging, uncommercial music of profound beauty and complexity. His few works have moved me and will continue to move me long after the pop pixies ‘now’ rappers have turned to dust. (On that note one should check out The Script and their current faux rap output that I find cringe making in the extreme!)

    The question is only to me, would I change if the suits came calling? Frankly, if commerce came calling on a 56 year old white male songwriter it would only be if what I made was a certain commercial ‘hit’. And for that they would want to keep change away, rather I think like “Seasick Steve”. Discovered in later life, the label is certain to want Steve to keep reproducing that which is his niche commercial uniqueness. For most of us the question will not arise, as a lottery win is more likely 🙂

    Best regards
    Ian Melvin
    Fleetwood, UK

    • Hi Ian! You make some great points. Really, very very well said. I do agree that everyone is fully aware that the icons we admire are all wearing a mask, a disguise with which to trick us. But, I do think it is too harsh to say that they are cynical manipulators. The reason why? It is because of the reason I mentioned earlier. They would not be doing what they are doing if the system in which they live didn’t reward it so lavishly. Let’s face it, girls (in America, at least) grow up learning that you are only important if you are an actress, a singer, a model, or reality tv star. How do I know this? Look at today’s headlines and you’ll see everything about Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian or whoever else. You rarely,or never, see women who are scientists who made a great discovery or women on the front lines of war-torn countries trying to save lives. So, what the culture lauds is what the people aspire to. And for some, the desire to be important and vetted is so great that they will do it at any cost.

      Btw, rap is for everyone!! You could be the next MC Ian:).

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