I don’t know. I’m scared at the thought. Music is so tough. It’s so painful. It takes so long. It’s also the greatest thing to happen to me.
Today I gave my son, whose only 10 months, a pair of some old headphones I found. And he was in heaven and so was I. If you’ve never made a kid smile, let alone your own kid smile, it is the best feeling in the world. He just sat and banged on his guitar for a bit and started dancing every time he hit the red button on his toy piano. He always gets a big grin on his face when he sees me rocking my headphones in the house, so maybe that had something to do with his excitement.
And that’s when it hit me, “Oh shit this kid is probably going to catch the music bug!”.
The music bug is something I caught early on, probably because I would watch my mom play piano and she looked so sad doing it. It was so weird to see someone you loved, playing these beautiful piano songs and be looking very depressed about it (it’s probably how I look mixing a song). I’m not sure why maybe she was thinking about her past experiences or was just really focused on her playing. Moms are weird.
Doing music has been a natural thing for me. And I don’t say that to boost or anything, quite the contrary. While my other friends were going to med school and getting fancy other high brow degrees, I was interning at dirty studios filled with weed smoke and gangsta rappers. I would actually become envious of my friends who had these well paying jobs living in nice condos and driving BMWs, while I was struggling just to pay the bills each month. I actually cursed my gift. I saw it as a burden. I didn’t want to have it. I wanted to go to med school or law school and become something important or at least something that makes your mom say, “Oh my son is a lawyer” with pride.
And that’s why the thought of my son catching the music bug scares the crap out of me. I don’t want him going down that road. It’s just so grueling. And then I slapped my self. Not physically, more of a mental slap.
Music isn’t a career, it’s a calling.
Being an artist isn’t something that we do to become rich and famous and bang all the pretty girls (okay maybe some do) but for most artists it is something that is innate. Creating is like breathing. If I couldn’t create in some form or another, I’d probably need a therapist. We don’t want to create. WE HAVE TO CREATE. It’s in our DNA along with breathing, eating and watching Breaking Bad. We have to do it. I realized about a year ago that there’s no point fighting it. It’s our calling.
“Andre what the hell is a calling?”
Whenever most people picture a “calling”, at least when I do, I picture Mother Teresa going to India to help out the poor. But really it doesn’t have to be as grand, in fact in all likelihood it wont be. People that do music to win Grammy Awards never make it because they have their eye set on the wrong prize. Instead of thinking big, think small. Think about becoming the best house producer on your street first, before you think about becoming the best house producer in Europe. This will not only challenge your expectations, it will also change how you make music because it will change who you make it for. Why?
Well for starters, you’re not competing with the big boys anymore. There’s no point competing with the David Guettas or the Kanye Wests or the Taylor Swifts of the world. They already have massive fan bases, work very hard and are well funded – which basically means they can put you out of business before you even start. What you want to do is steal their fans, but not the fans they have now. You want to steal the fans they would have had. And you do that by starting off in your own “neighborhood”.
Now when I say “neighborhood”, I don’t necessarily mean the actual neighborhood you live in, but an untapped group of people that you identify with and relate to and make music for them. Just whatever you do don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to make a mainstream hit”, because you wont. All the mainstream hits come from the most random places and are about the most random things. When wise people say, “Make music for yourself”, what they really mean is make it for someone like you, who would enjoy it.
Let’s take Gangnam Style, for example. the video has 1.6 billion views! It is the biggest song of the year. Did Psy set out to make a mainstream song that appealed to a billion people? No. He made a song about a district in South Korea that is known for its snobby inhabitants. Can you believe that? Let’s imagine an American A&R for a sec, an Ari Gold type figure, go up to him and say, “I have a song about making fun of rich people in this district of South Korea called Gangnam, do you think this will play on American Top 40 radio?”. He’d laugh at you and have you escorted from the building. He’d probably say something like, “The world doesn’t care about South Korea, let alone know where it is on a map. Americans are not going to listen to a rap song in Korean you mindless twit!”.
That is until they do. And as history has shown they did. And was all because Psy made a small song dissing Gangnam’s elite.
Get Big By Being Small
This is just one example, but all the big hits have all been about small things. Those small things are where we all have commonalities. We all have a part of the city we live in where snobby girls wont look at us if we’re not buying $20,000 bottles at the club. And we all hate those kind of girls. It doesn’t matter if you’re in London, Paris, Stockholm, Sydney or Chicago. The small things are what connect us.
We all know the world is getting smaller. So how can indie artists use this to their advantage? Because indie artists are on the proverbial ground floor of what’s happening in their worlds, they are the best people to make songs about small things. Don’t be afraid to document the small. That is what artist have always done. Back in the day, and by “back in the day” I don’t mean the 90s or 80s, I mean medieval times and earlier. Artists told stories that connected with the people around them. They didn’t care if they became rich and famous of their art, they just did it because it was something they had to do. That’s where we are going and have always been, even though we may have gone off track during the MTV era. When times get rough, remember this is your calling. Embrace your smallness.
Having said all that I’m still scared if my son catches the music bug, but if he does I’ll be standing front row cheering.