I was reviewing the overwhelming responses to the “Best Of 2014” email we sent out (Thank you all again for those!) and the email signature of one response caught my eye. The signature had this quote from C.S. Lewis, “It’s hard to see things if you don’t know what they look like”
I don’t know why but I fixated on it.
My immediate interpretation of that quote was that it articulates fear.
Artists that come or operate from a place of fear are weakened by the anxiety of the unknown.
The unknown becomes something real to them in their head, something frightening, alarming, or just plain unattractive.
They think they know what they are dreaming up is supposed to look like but without the work to actually see how the inspiration manifests itself, the reality is they don’t know what it looks like.
They stop working or pass on an opportunity simply because of a flawed thought process.
The good news is that’s fixable.
Just do the work.
Here’s a real life example. Kelly and I were developing a very young artist a few years back. He is a very gifted, very special guitar player. He has been touring since he turned 19 and continues to make a living doing what he loves (and was clearly born) to do.
When he came to Nashville at 17 years old, he was operating from a place of fear in many aspects of his life yet he still had the balls to move at such a young age; the dichotomy!
You see he’s a rocker/blues guitarist at heart.
His fear manifested itself in quite a few disruptive behaviors that hindered his career as an artist and professional musician.
Kelly and I had dreamt up a few different ideas that would spotlight his talent creatively and in the marketplace albeit residing on the fringe of the country music market.
That’s a pretty damn diverse market these days.
We promised the artist (like we do ALL of our artists) we would never put him somewhere where he doesn’t belong or doesn’t want to be.
We promised the artist that if he put in the work, we recorded something, and he hated it, we wouldn’t care. Kelly and I knew it would be a stepping stone to discovering the artistic lane.
We thought we could do a rock record very cleverly arranged that could end up being spun on country music radio (which makes sense on a business level because it’s the biggest “store front” at the moment). Remember, whether you like them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line changed country radio forever.
Country radio changed for them instead of them changing for country radio.
We felt we could do the same with this artist by making radio change for his lane.
He was DEATHLY afraid that we were going to try to put a cowboy hat on his head, cowboy boots on his feet, and a hayseed in this teeth.
Kelly and I desperately tried to reason with him. Of course, we didn’t care how he dressed.
I told him, “Close your eyes and picture yourself listening down to all the mixes on your record. It’s everything you wanted to do. You are proud of this record! Can you picture that?”
“Yes” he responded.
“Now then, why do you care where I sell it?”
I thought that one would “corner him with logic” but alas, it didn’t.
We asked him, what do you want to do?
He didn’t know what he wanted to, instead he constantly focused on what he thought he didn’t want to do based on what he saw in his imagination.
There was no recording.
This infuriated me because we never did ANY work and he had the ultimate artistic hall pass, we agreed to scrap anything and everything he didn’t like after we recorded it.
He was afraid to “play in our sandbox”.
He couldn’t see it because he didn’t know what it looked like.
If you really dig down you can never know what an original artistic creation will look like in advance.
Knowing exactly what it looks like is a euphemism for “DERIVATIVE”
Originality requires courage.
Courage is action in the face of fear.
Earlier this year, this artist called me after he heard The Cadillac Three’s “Party Like You” and said, “I get it now. I get what you and Kelly were trying to do”.
It’s a badass rock record getting spins on country radio, but I digress.
The second interpretation of the quote “It’s hard to see things when you don’t know what they look like” was self-forgiveness.
Let me save you the suspense, when artists courageously go forward with their art they will make mistakes.
Here’s an example: My first tour was a financial failure because I allowed the booking agent to walk all over me. The rest of my touring life as an artist was a financial success because I knew what it was supposed to look like after having screwed it up.
Here’s another example: from the time I was 16-20 years old I secretly adored this girl that worked at the Lake Geneva record store. I would buy records I had no business buying because I wanted an excuse to speak with her.
She was gorgeous. Everything I thought I wanted in a woman. During my first tour (yes, the financially unsuccessful one) I found out she was everything I didn’t want in a woman.
It’s hard to see things when you don’t know what they look like so if you got burned, man, then LET IT GO.
Now that you know what it looks like you can see it clearly.
The shame is making the same mistake twice when you do recognize it.
I wish us all a GREAT 2015 y’all!
Stay in tune.
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