Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Expression in Art

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It has been only two weeks since twelve people were killed at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo by two gunmen. In the aftermath of the tragic events, there has been an outpouring of emotion throughout the world. Among these have been many peaceful protests in support of the magazine and the victims of the attacks. However other reactions have not been so sedate with anger being directed toward the magazine and its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. With such strongly held views on both sides many questions about free speech have been raised. Most notably, when it comes to satire–whether in writing, art, or any other form–how far is too far? Does an artist’s right to freedom of expression trump the rights of those that might take offense?

In the United States the answer would seem to be a resounding and clear yes. After all Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press are featured in the First Amendment. In our history, revolution, protests and challenging the status quo have played a large role in shaping the country’s character. In turn the arts have been utilized to inspire and bring about change. In writing we have numerous authors including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Upton Sinclair, Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou and many others whose voices and experiences changed the way we looked at the world and each other. In theatre we have Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” (which was famously temporarily shut down by the WPA to avoid government and union restrictions), Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” which features one of the most poignant commentaries and critiques of racism “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” and of course boundary pushing works such as “Hair” and “Rent.” American protest music has a long history from early colonial protest songs like “Revolutionary Tea” (which celebrates the Boston Tea Party) to the anthems of Pro-Union workers, to the music of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. Thus attempts at censorship can and have often been met with resistance from the courts and the general population.

However, as some have pointed out, things get a bit more complicated when we consider practices that we seem to hold in contrast with our ideals. In an article from The Huffington Post, writer Pia de Jong noted the muted response to the shooting in the United States. She believed the reason for this lies in the country’s multi-cultural roots stating, “Self-censorship and hypocrisy are the main instruments that keep the many groups away from each other’s throats.” She also noted that unlike the free for all of European Press, the media in the US is very much in line with political correctness (de Jong). This view was echoed by columnist David Brooks who wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, “If [Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.” The media’s coverage of the tragedy seems to confirm these points as many newspapers and all American news networks have chosen to censor or simply refuse to show the offending artwork (Bankoff).

Obviously what happened at Charlie Hebdo is a tragedy. No one deserves to die over a picture, or any other piece of art for that matter. Moreover, I appreciate the ability of satire to expose hypocrisy and injustice within society. However, as an artist I couldn’t see myself going out of the way to offend a group (or groups) of people the way Charlie Hebdo does. In the end there is probably no clear answer to that question “how far is too far?” Instead it is dependent on all of us to (as David Brooks so eloquently wrote) “…maintain that delicate balance between the standards of civility and respect while at the same time allowing room for those creative and challenging folks who are uninhibited by good manners and taste.”

Works Cited and Bibliography

Bankoff, Caroline. “Some Newspapers and All Major American News Networks Decide Against Showing Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoons.” Daily Intelligencer. NYMag, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Brooks, David. “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
“The Cradle Will Rock.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Dec. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Jong, Pia De. “When Charlie Met Charlie.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Levs, Josh. “10 Killed, Churches Torched in Protests over Charlie Hebdo – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Schofield, Hugh. “Massacre at French Magazine Office.” BBC News. BBC, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

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Crowd Control: How to Deal with an Uncooperative Audience

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As a musician and actress, one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with are uncooperative audiences. Sometimes it’s due to inattentiveness or an uninterested attitude. Other times it can be due to outright rude behavior or heckling.
The relationship between the performer and the audience is highly important to the success of a performer. However, any performer can tell you a story of at least one audience (or members of an audience) that didn’t act appropriately or were indifferent to the performance. This isn’t limited to performers in obscurity. In July of this year Ray LaMontagne stormed offstage and demanded two audience members be ejected from his show for talking during his set at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids Michigan (Karan). On the other side of the coin, Jack White ended a set at Detroit’s Fox Theatre early and has sworn never to play there again following a show where he cited the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm (Parks). While LaMontagne and White’s reactions are certainly understandable to many performers, they are probably not actions we can afford to take. So what is a performer to do? Below I have included some tips for performers that can hopefully help in keeping these situations from happening or at the very least de-escalating them.

1) Understand Your Venue: The type of venue you’re performing in does have an impact in many cases on what you can and should expect from your audience. If you are a violinist performing at a classical recital or an actor performing in a theatre you can probably expect a fairly well behaved audience (Estrin). Any breaches of etiquette will more likely then not be taken care of by other audience members (who might chastise the offender) or even the venue’s staff. However what if you are performing at a party, bar, festival or a public space like a shopping mall? Well unfortunately even though the lack of attention may wound your ego there probably isn’t much you can do because at many of these events people can also come to hang out and not just listen to music (Ibid). However if a crowd (or someone in it) is truly out of control you might need to have the club manager, bouncer, or whoever else is running the show step in (Bliesener, Knopper). Try to get to know these people ahead of time so that if a situation does occur you’ll know who you can rely on (Ibid).

2) Know your audience: This often goes hand in hand with understanding your venue. However in many ways it deserves it’s own category since knowing the type of audience to expect and what they like can go a long way to putting on a successful show. This might mean playing more covers then originals. In other cases it might mean playing more of a particular genre (i.e. playing mostly country music at a country/western bar or more rock at a biker bar). If you can, try to take requests and if you can’t play a song let the person know as nicely as possible (Bliesener, Knopper). However, don’t forget (especially if you are an original artist) to try and build your own audience. If there is anyone at a gig who seems especially interested in your work reach out to them; get them on your mailing list, your Facebook page, etc. Even if you get just one new fan at a venue, over time you can build momentum. Eventually you can reach a point where you are rewarded with audiences that are there for you.

3) Try to resist confrontation: While you may be tempted to confront a heckler or other uncooperative audience members, generally it’s not the best course of action. In many cases this situation can backfire by escalating the situation and further alienating the individuals involved. You also run the risk of alienating other audience members who might be friends with the heckler or may otherwise be turned off by a hostile response (however arguably deserved it may have been). In many cases the best thing you can do is to simply launch into your next song/poem/etc (Bliesener, Knopper). Hecklers in particular thrive on the attention they receive from their antics and ignoring them can sometimes shut them up (though of course if they are too unruly you might need to allow the venue to handle the situation). One tactic, recommended by pianist Robert Estrin, can be to play or speak more quietly. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution for all performers (a heavy metal band can only get so quiet). However sometimes this can draw people in more and those that can’t hear might take it upon themselves to silence any offenders.

Ultimately as artists and performers we will at some point have those moments where no matter what we do an audience may not respond in the way we want them to. Hopefully though the tips provided here can help. If all else fails, just try to focus on playing the best you can and when the show is over focus on your next performance. In the words of Mr. White from the film That Thing You Do “If the crowd doesn’t go wild for you, don’t worry. They will tomorrow.”

(If you have any stories or tips of your own on dealing with uncooperative audiences please leave them in the comments below.)

Bibliography and Works Cited

Bliesener, Mark, and Steve Knopper. “I’ve Got the Gig! Now What? Crowd Control.” The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Band. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2004. 136-37. Print.

Dealing with a Loud Audience. Perf. Robert Estrin. Dealing with a Loud Audience. Virtual Sheet Music, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Karan, Tim. “Ray LaMontagne Storms Offstage, Boots Couple From Show.” Diffuserfm. N.p., 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Parks, Andrew. “Jack White Ends Detroit Set Early, Pledges to Never Play Fox Theatre Again.” Wondering Sound. N.p., 29 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Creativity and the Mind Body Connection

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From the time I was a child I dreaded gym class. Gym class was when I had to wear unattractive clothes, get picked on and picked last by the jocks and jockettes, play sports I wasn’t any good at, and ultimately get dirty, sweaty and smelly. As a true child of the arts and humanities (and a bit of a girly girl to measure) gym class seemed to be the opposite of beauty and artistic ideals. Furthermore, as a fairly intelligent kid I tended to (and still do) live in my head quite a bit. My body was there but it was more of a vehicle for my mind and vocal chords. However, as I am getting closer to my mid-twenties with a few too many pounds and a quite a few artistic blocks, I’m finding myself reevaluating the mind-body connection and what it can do for me as an artist.

For centuries in western society people have believed the mind and body were separate and more importantly that the mind was superior to the body (Montgomery). After all, the mind was viewed as the being the center of reason, identity and spirituality while the body was seen as home to untamed emotions and primal urges (Ibid). However recent studies in neuroscience and cognitive science have found that this division is not the case. Mind and body, rather than being like two separate cliques who tolerate each other’s existence, are made to coexist harmoniously. Physical activity can, among other things, boost mood and stimulate brain growth (Siegfried). However, the most exciting discovery is from the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience which showed that regular exercise could boost creativity.

At first glance this might sound like bad news for artists and intellectuals who may still have nightmares about gym class. However there are ways that we can exercise to tap into this potential and none of these have to involve getting picked last for volleyball.

1) Dance: This might be the most obvious way to get physical activity for people who love the arts considering dance is an art. You can either find classes or you can do it at home with video instruction. There are several different branches of dance you can choose from (ballroom, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, belly dance, African dance, clogging…). Dance has been found to boost memory, improve balance and flexibility, increase energy, reduce stress and depression, and help the heart (in fact an Italian study found dancing helped people with heart disease improve more than biking or walking on a treadmill) (Knight). Dance can also help to make friends and expand socially (ibid). After all, knowing a few moves can probably do quite a bit to boost your confidence at the next wedding or high school reunion you have to attend. Of course for artists it can also be an opportunity for performance.
2) Walking/Jogging/Bicycling: I included these together because in many ways they are very similar in their benefits though they have their differences as well. All are aerobic exercises meaning that large groups of muscles are active which requires support from the heart and lungs (Lidor). You can either walk/jog/cycle around your neighborhood or if you’re an indoor type you can do them at a gym or at home on a treadmill. They all reduce weight and can prevent various degenerative diseases though cycling puts less stress on joints and thus is often recommended for people who are overweight (Ibid). However, as an artist you might take different approaches. Some (particularly if you are doing this outdoors) might use the time to gain inspiration from your surroundings or as a time to clear your mind. Others might listen to music or an audiobook for inspiration (safety note: if you are outside try to remain aware of your surroundings, especially be mindful of traffic).
3) Yoga: The term Yoga actually refers to a variety of physical, mental and spiritual practices to transform the body and the mind (Wikipedia). The type of Yoga that spread to the west and is most popular in America is a style known as Hatha Yoga (Ibid). However there are many types of Yoga a person can choose from. They range from the very physical styles of Ashtanga and Power Yoga to the more relaxed Iyenger and Hatha (WebMD). Yoga can have many benefits to health including increases in flexibility and strength, better posture, lower blood pressure, and better breathing (Ibid). It’s also been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and better immune system function (Ibid). However Yoga can also have huge benefits in quieting and clearing the mind which can help artists (or anyone for that matter) relieve everyday stresses and perhaps find the inspiration for that next great project (Ibid).
4) Swimming: Swimming is great for those of us that are especially concerned about the icky sweaty factor of exercise (and considering we only have about one more month of summer, now is a good time to take advantage of it). The benefits of swimming are numerous. First, you can work practically all the muscles in the body with a variety of strokes (Luebbers). Additionally it can develop strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness (Ibid). It’s great for people who are overweight or have joint problems or injuries since it doesn’t involve as much impact stress on the body (Ibid). There can obviously be social benefits (hanging out with friends at the beach or by the pool). However, like yoga, swimming can also allow for meditation which can lead to an artist being able to clear their mind and gain some inspiration.

I offer a challenge to my fellow artists; let’s get off the couch or up from our desks and truly explore our mind-body connections. Let’s dance, walk, jog, cycle, swim, do yoga, or do something else entirely if none of those work for you. In finding our mind-body connection we can be lead to a better understanding of ourselves as artists. Thus we can become more creative, productive, and can truly live up to our artistic ideals (even if we are a little sweaty).

Bibliography and Works Cited
Chan, Amanda L. “Regular Exercise Could Boost Creativity.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Colzato, Lorenza S., Ayca Szapora, Justine N. Pannekoek, and Bernhard Hommel. “The Impact of Physical Exercise on Convergent and Divergent Thinking.” Frontiers. N.p., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Davis, Jeffrey, M.A. “Science of Creativity Moves Into the Body.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Dean, Jeremy. “20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind.” PsyBlog RSS. N.p., 09 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Knight, Madeline. “9 Health Benefits of Dance.” EverydayHealth.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Lidor, David. “Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences.” Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Luebbers, Mat. “What Are the Health Benefits of Being a Swimmer?” About.com Swimming. N.p., 02 June 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Montgomery, John, Ph.D. “The Body in the Mind.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Siegfried, Juliette, MPH. “How Exercise Affects the Brain.” How Exercise Affects the Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
“Yoga Health Benefits: Flexibility, Strength, Posture, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.
“Yoga.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .

Stealing Artistically

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One of the main rules many artists have been taught to take seriously is avoiding plagiarism or copying someone else’s work. However in the past few weeks some of my favorite artists have become embroiled in scandals and debates relating to this topic.

The first story is that of Led Zeppelin who are currently being sued by representatives of the band Spirit for allegedly ripping off the guitar line for the infamous “Stairway to Heaven”. While the story has gained plenty of publicity it’s actually one that many fans of rock music have been aware of for several years (Chappell). (Cracked.com, for instance, mentioned the similarities between the songs back in 2010.) This is not the first time Led Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism. In 1972 the band was sued by ARC Records who claimed that “The Lemon Song” was plagiarized from the Howlin’ Wolf number “Killing Floor” (turnmeondeadman.com) In 1985 the band was again sued, this time by blues musician Willie Dixon who claimed the song “Whole Lotta Love” borrowed heavily from his song “You Need Love” (DeGroot).The most recent lawsuit against the band was in 2010; the plaintiff was musician Jake Holmes who claimed Led Zeppelin had plagiarized his song “Dazed and Confused” (Ibid). In all three cases the band settled out of court and the respective musicians have been given songwriting credits on reissues of the albums (though Jake Holmes has merely been given a credit of “Inspired by” on the Celebration Day album and DVD (www.turnmeondeadman.com).

The second story is that of Jack White and The Black Keys. The two bands have had a bit of feud for several years. However in a recent Rolling Stone article, White accused The Keys of ripping off his sound stating, “There are kids at school who dress like everybody else, because they don’t know what to do, and there are musicians like that, too. I’ll hear TV commercials where the music’s ripping off sounds of mine, to the point I think it’s me. Half the time, it’s the Black Keys…” White also went on to suggest that there are musicians that open up a market (his example Amy Winehouse) and those that merely follow in their footsteps (his examples Duffy, Lana Del Rey, and Adele). White has since apologized for his statements on his website.

Both of these stories are intriguing to me (obviously since they are both about artists that I enjoy and listen to on a regular basis). However both bring up some interesting questions about copying and plagiarism. When does “inspiration” turn into plagiarism? Where is the fine line between being in the company of your favorite artists or merely being a “copy-cat?” The answer might be more complicated then we think.

First we might need to review the definition of plagiarism. According to plagiarism.org (who utilize the definition of the Merriam Webster dictionary) “to plagiarize means; to steal or pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own, to use (another’s production) without crediting the source, to commit literary theft, to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” (www.plagiarism.org). The site states plagiarism is an act of fraud that involves stealing someone’s work and lying about it afterwards (Ibid). It also notes that under US Law the expression of ideas are protected under copyright laws as intellectual property as long as they are recorded in some way (Ibid). Obliviously the definition is stringent though the site also notes plagiarism can be avoided by simply crediting any sources utilized (Ibid).

However there are those that challenge the conventional ideas about plagiarism and copyright law. Among these individuals are Kirby Ferguson and Austin Kleon. Both men argue that nothing is really “original” and that most creative works are a mash-up or remix of previous ideas. Ferguson in particular takes aim at copyright law stating, “American Copyright and Patent laws run counter to this notion that we build on the work of others. Instead these laws…use the rather awkward analogy of property. Now creative works may indeed be kind of like property, but it’s property we are all building on and creations can only take root and grow once that ground has been prepared.”

So what is an artist to do in a world where nothing is original but copyright laws rule the day? Well according to Austin Kleon (author of the book Steal Like an Artist) the answers lie in understanding your creative genealogy (i.e. the family tree of artist you admire and are similar to) and then collecting ideas from those artists and transforming those ideas into something greater. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Though as Led Zeppelin might attest, citing your sources can help too.

Bibliography and Works Cited

Beauchemin, Molly. “Jack White Slams The Black Keys, Suggests Once Again That They’ve Ripped Off His Sound.” Pitchfork. N.p., 30 May 2014. Web. 5 June 2014. .

Chappell, Bill. “Led Zeppelin Sued Over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ Guitar Line.” NPR. NPR, 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

DeGroot, Joey. “7 Songs That Led Zeppelin Ripped Off.” Music Times RSS. N.p., 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ferguson, Kirby. “Kirby Ferguson: Embracing the Remix.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Kleon, Austin “Steal Like An Artist: Austin Kleon at TEDxKC.” By Austin Kleon. YouTube. YouTube, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “The Lemon Song”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism?” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ramakrishnan, Rohan. “The 5 Most Famous Musicians Who Are Thieving Bastards.” Cracked.com. N.p., 06 May 2010. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Scalese, Roberto. “Stairway to Theftin’: Led Zeppelin Sued in Most Entertaining Lawsuit Ever.” Boston.com. The New York Times, 03 June 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“What Is Plagiarism?” Plagiarism.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2014. .

White, Jack, III. “An Apology and Explanation from Jack White.” Jack White. N.p., 31 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

So You Want To Be In The Arts (A Letter To The Class of 2014)

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Dear Graduating Students,

 You are probably looking forward to finishing up your final classes, preparing for graduation (and any respective parties you may be having), and getting ready to kick off that final summer at home before you head off to college. You should definitely have some fun. You deserve it after all the hard work you’ve put in. However, as someone who has “been there” I would like to take this time to give you some (hopefully) helpful advice. Especially to those of you who want to go into the arts.

 First, I want to congratulate you on having the guts and spirit to go after what you want. Believe me that is definitely a hurdle that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you’ve got it in you to stand up and say “I want to do this” in spite of your parents, teachers, extended family, friends, politicians, and even your own self-doubting thoughts trying to steer you on a different path, then you just might have what it takes to make it as a singer, writer, actor, or whatever it is you want to be.

 That being said, let me give you my first piece of advice, prepare for difficulties. When I say this, please don’t think I’m insulting your intelligence. The first thing any of us hear when attempting to have a career in the arts is how hard it is. However, when I was in that place (that place being seventeen years old and deciding to major in music business) I knew there would be challenges but even I underestimated how many there would be. I think part of the problem is we tell ourselves that one day it will get easier; that all we have to do is get the record contract, write the perfect script, or star in the feature film. The hard reality is not that it’s difficult to get there. It’s that we believe when we do reach that point that things will suddenly get easier when that’s not the case. You got the record deal; great now you have to put out some quality albums (or at least what the label might think is quality), tour constantly, be interviewed by the press, and while you might have a more comfortable lifestyle then you did as a starving artist there are more responsibilities too. The sooner that you realize things won’t become “easier” the better off you’ll be. In the same way that your graduation doesn’t mean you won’t be facing new challenges in college, becoming a best-selling author or musician doesn’t mean that your life will be easier and that you’ll always create great work.

 My second piece of advice would be to get as much hands on experience as you can and build as many relationships as possible. You are probably aware that you will be required to complete an internship at some point during your time as a student. If I could go back and do things over again I would get an internship or volunteer with an organization every summer. Heck, start this summer. Call up an indie record label, music journal, publishing house, whatever organization you are interested in and say “I’m interested in this field and I’d like to intern or volunteer with your organization.” The best part? They’ll probably say yes. After all what person in their right mind is going to turn down free help? These internships are not to be underestimated, especially in the current economy. A secret that most people don’t realize about getting a job or career is that many organizations might not even post in the classifieds when they have a position open. They promote from within their organization or hire someone they know (Bolles, 8). If you start doing an internship or two every summer, then by the time you graduate college you will have gained a great amount of experience in the field you want to work in and you will have made deep connections with people who have the power to hire you or can recommend you to someone who can. I might add working for free now is going to be a lot easier then working for free with tons of student loan debt hanging over your head.

 My final piece of advice would be to not forget to have fun and take whatever opportunities you can to expand your horizons. College is one of the few times that you have enough freedom to make your own choices and do what you want but fewer responsibilities then you will have once you get out into the working world. While you should study hard, don’t forget to have fun and have as many new experiences as you can. Looking back on my college days, I tend to think I played it a little too close to the vest. While I did a very good job academically it does get to me at times that I don’t have any stories of wild road trips with friends or tales of studying abroad. Then again it’s never too late…it just might take me longer to scrounge up the time and money, so again have these experiences while you can.

I hope this advice can help you in your artistic journey. Best of luck to all of you and congratulations.

4 Reasons Finding A Band is Like Finding A Relationship (Only Worse)

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Ever since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to be in a rock band. I still do but ten years later, while I haven’t given up, I’ve come to the sobering conclusion that it’s probably easier to find a relationship then someone to be in a band with. I suppose at its heart a band is a relationship between its members. Like any relationship…

4) You Can Get Rejected for Arbitrary Reasons: Do you have “that” friend? The one that has a checklist for their dream girl or guy? They go on date after date but no one ever lives up to their fantasy and sometimes they reject someone with plenty of potential for the smallest reason. Well finding a band can sometimes feel like that only more so. It shouldn’t be any secret that the music business is getting told no often. Sometimes though rejection can come for reasons that are at best political and at worst illogical. I once saw an ad for a band that was perfect on many levels (they liked the same type of music I did and seemed to have similar goals). I was turned down because they specifically wanted a male lead singer. Now granted people have a right to their qualifications and ultimately you don’t want work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you.  However, I think my example is one reason that finding a band can be more similar to finding a relationship then a job…a job would never be allowed to use that or similar reasons to turn you down (at least they couldn’t admit to it). Of course, while it’s not easy to be the rejected, it’s not easy doing the rejecting, especially when it may be for a good reason which leads me to number three…

3) You Have to Play with A Lot of Frogs to Find a Prince: The ideal band member is someone who has talent and chemistry (i.e. they are proficient at their instrument, they have similar taste in music, they can play with you and not against you, etc.) Unfortunately this combination can be exceedingly hard to find to say the least. I have too many stories to count but they can be divided into those who can’t play, those who can play but go overboard, those who can play but don’t have the same goals, and the list goes on. Oh and unless you’re trying to be Simon and Garfunkel or The White Stripes you’re probably going to have to find more than one other person so take all the frustration and angst of finding one awesome person and multiply that by the number of people you need. Of course if you’re lucky enough to find those people don’t get overconfident, you still need to decide what your goals are…

2) You Have to Talk About “The Future”: If you’ve been in a relationship at some point you find yourself having that awkward conversation about where the relationship is going. Are you looking to get married and have kids or do you just want a carefree fling? In a band it’s similar only marriage and kids is the Grammys and stardom. Or maybe it’s simply being a highly successful regional act or whatever end goal you have in mind. Ultimately though at some point (and preferably early) you have to figure out if you want the same things. Otherwise it can lead to bitterness and resentment. In the last group I was in our biggest problem was that we couldn’t agree on a direction. He wanted to do more cover band type stuff and I still wanted to try to work on original music. In another group I wanted to get more serious (more practices etc.) but the other members weren’t on the same page and it lead to us splitting up. Of course even if you have this conversation and you’re all in agreement on your goals there is still one more issue you have to face…

 1) You Can Find the Perfect People and It Still Falls Apart: I’ve been in two bands where everything seemed perfect. We all liked the same types of music, we seemed to have similar goals and in both cases I could see us rocking out at Bonnaroo or the Grammys together. In both cases they didn’t even make it past the first gig. Of course staying together isn’t an easy task. One only has to look at a biography of The Beatles or The Yardbirds to see how even great bands can fall apart or have trouble maintaining a line up.

Sometimes I wonder why I still want to try, especially with all the frustration I’ve dealt with. I don’t want to stop searching though because, in spite of the issues, I still hope to find that perfect band one day. There isn’t anything that beats the feeling of playing music with other people and being totally in sync. It’s a feeling that, as corny as it sounds, is truly magical (and really that’s the only way you can describe it). Being in a band gives you a chance to be a part of something greater then yourself. As a soloist you might only be able to play so much but when you have your fellow band members you can take the world by storm. It’s because of this dream I keep going so that hopefully one day I can find my true (musical) soul mates.

The Science of Selling Out

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Artists are people that don’t tend to have many rules (or at the very least are somewhat flexible with them). However there is one rule that seems to be taken very seriously and that is never ever ever “sell out.”

This rule can mean different things depending on the type of artist you are. If you’re a musician it might mean never trying to go on “American Idol” or singing certain songs or genres. If you’re a writer it might mean constantly pursuing the great American novel as opposed to trying to write the next “Twilight.” Directors and actors might try to make small art-house films instead of Michael Bay blockbusters. Whatever kind of artist you are, you are probably familiar with a code of sorts about what constitutes authentic art. These codes can be seen in our media and culture. In “Rent” the main characters, a group of artists and musicians, clash with their former friend who married into a wealthy family and wants to build a state of the art studio in the middle of their bohemian neighborhood. In “School Of Rock” Dewey Finn chastises his former band members, who kicked him out in favor of another guitar player exclaiming “You’ve been focused so hard on making it you forgot about one little thing; it’s called the MUSIC!” He leaves the practice space stating “I don’t wanna hang out with a bunch of wannabe corporate sellouts.” We all might know someone (or even be the person) who seems to be constantly saying things along the lines of “Oh I liked so & so until they went mainstream.”

For years I’ve had my own codes I’ve been determined to play in an original rock band. I balked at the idea of going on shows like “Idol”. I loved those characters that rebelled and never gave in. However over the past few years many things have happened that have made me question these stances. Since I don’t want to go into potentially endless details it should suffice to say that a lot has happened that has made me wonder if being the suffering artist who never sells out is really making me a better artist or any happier. In both cases I’m not sure this is true. It is hard for me to be a productive artist when I’m having trouble writing songs, finding an audience, etc. Furthermore, while I’m willing to work for my art should I have to suffer for it? Shouldn’t I enjoy it? I remember my professor in college quoting Xavier Cugat who stated, “I would rather play ‘Chiquita Banana’ and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” At the time I thought the very idea was horrendous, even somewhat blasphemous. However after two years of hard knocks I’ve started long for the swimming pool.

Another reason I’ve had many of these thoughts is I came across yet another Cracked article, that pointed out that even my heroes The Beatles had changed many aspects about themselves to become…well The Beatles. Among the changes were switching from jeans and leather jackets to trousers, getting those now famous matching haircuts, and no longer doing any inappropriate behaviors onstage (eating, drinking and swearing). Of course, as the article points out and fans of The Beatles realize, making these changes didn’t exactly stifle the creativity of the band. It might be worth asking whether The Beatles would have made it as far if they’d said to hell with Epstein’s ideas and stayed in Liverpool. Would we even be talking about them today?

There is a big part of me that hates the fact I’m writing this (heck even the fact I’ve been having these thoughts). I always swore that I’d never be that person who caved in to “bourgeois ideals” and other seemingly corrupting influences. This being said I still have enough idealism in me that I wouldn’t want to become some Gordon Gekko like character who’s only concern is what’s going to be the next hit or how much will an album sell. When I think about that day in my professor’s class when he quoted Xavier Cugat I remember my response was “Why does it have to be one or the other?” Maybe that’s the trick. You make compromises where you have to, you wear the costume or sing the occasional song through gritted teeth but you try to stay true to yourself on the big things. You pick the battles instead of waging what might be an endless unwinnable war.

There might be those of you reading that absolutely hate what I’m saying. You might feel that just by contemplating these ideas I’m turning my back on true art and simply becoming another hack. To that I say ok. Honestly I hope you’re right and I wish you well on your artistic journey. I hope you can go out and do things that I can’t. I hope you knock down walls and create a path for yourself. I hope that you never have to contemplate the choices I’ve been finding myself making and that you can find success without having to make a sacrifice that would violate your artistic integrity.
However maybe there are others of you who identify with what I’m saying. To you I say let’s try to redefine what makes us a “true artist.” Let’s pick our battles where we can. Let’s carve our own paths where whatever choices we make are the ones that are right for us and not ones that we are pressured to make by the idea of what an artist should be. In short, let’s not give up but maybe every so often give in.

Bibliography
“The Beatles.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. .
“Chiquita Quotes and Sayings Quotes about Chiquita.” Chiquita Quotes and Sayings. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
Iannone, Jason. “5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out.” Cracked.com. N.p., 08 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
“Rent (musical).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
School of Rock. Dir. Richard Linklater. Perf. Jack Black. Paramount, 2003. DVD.