Is Rock Really Dead or Just Evolving (A Response to Gene Simmons)

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Gene Simmons has once again made headlines declaring the death of rock-n-roll. In an interview in Esquire Magazine (with his son Nick Simmons), the Kiss bassist blamed the dying music industry and illegal downloading/file sharing for creating the current landscape that musicians have to navigate. Indeed the current state of rock music and its place in the music industry is fairly grim. However to declare it dead is, in my view, erroneous.
Simmons is correct in his statements illegal downloading has led to the music industry lacking the power it once had. This in turn results in the industry that’s left relying on safer bets: pop and rap which are very popular and country which in addition to popularity also has an audience more likely to buy albums. It’s true that it might be difficult for people to think of bands in the past 20 years that are truly iconic. It’s also true that in our current society there is (sadly) a lack of respect for artists and their work.
However does all this mean that rock is dead? I don’t believe this is the case. The more likely scenario is that rock (and music as a whole) is evolving. This evolution is leading to bands that may not fill stadiums like Kiss but are just as well loved by their fans and are still able to make music their career.
Some factors that Simmons failed to take into account for the current state of rock music is a cultural fragmentation of sorts and a fragmentation of rock music itself. In the period he lauds as the time where many classic bands came into being (from about 1958-1983) there was a more homogenous culture. It was a time where there were only a few channels on television and where the idea of the internet would have sounded like something out of “The Jetsons.” It was easy for rock bands to be propelled to a mass audience because they had “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “American Bandstand,” and other similar programs that everybody watched (perhaps because it was one of a few choices). Now however, with hundreds of channels on television and millions of websites artists don’t necessarily have that same platform for immediate exposure to a mass audience. In some ways this might be beneficial (one can argue that artists today have many different platforms they can utilize) though I will concede that it can feel at times like shouting into a wind tunnel.
Another issue is that the genre of rock music has become very fragmented as well. This isn’t new; in the early and mid-sixties there were clashes between mods, who favored the sounds of bands like The Who, and rockers who stayed loyal to the rockabilly sounds of the fifties. In the late sixties and seventies we saw the growth of numerous subgenres including psychedelic rock, heavy metal, southern rock, glam rock, punk, new wave, etc. However nowadays there are so many different subgenres (just think of how many types of metal alone that there are) that it’s hard to pinpoint one band that defines rock as a whole. Is rock represented by the radio friendly pop sound of Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5? The retro vintage sound of Wolfmother, The Black Keys and the music of Jack White and his various groups? Is it the neo-psychedelic sounds of The Flaming Lips, the folk-rock sound of The Avett Brothers or the dark metal/grunge sound of Five Finger Death Punch? While this fragmentation of the genre certainly might make it hard to talk about a band defining rock in the way The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did, it goes to show that there is still a lot of rock music out there and a lot of rock music fans. They just might not listen to the same stations or have the same music in their iTunes libraries.
Thus, despite the continuing challenges that up and coming bands may face, rock music is far from dead. In fact, it’s just the opposite, very much alive and continuing to evolve and expand. The rock bands of the future may have more challenges to face and more of a niche audience then the bands of the past. However, in the words of AC/DC, “Rock-n-roll, it will survive.”

Bibliography and Works Cited

Simmons, Nick. “Gene Simmons: ‘Rock Is Finally Dead'” Esquire.com Article. Esquire, 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014. .

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. .

Navigating the Creative U-Turn

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I haven’t written on this blog in about two weeks and I’ve had trouble picking up the guitar. It’s made me feel some guilt as I do tend to have a bit of a work/success oriented nature i.e. sometimes I feel my value as a person comes from what I produce or what I am doing with my life. However I’ve felt a slight sense of panic too. For most of my life, if not my whole life, I’ve wanted to be an artist in some sense and for the past few weeks I’ve suddenly been questioning myself about whether I have what it takes and whether I even want to be an artist anymore. In short I’ve been experiencing a creative U-turn (or perhaps in my case it’s more of a crossroads).

The Creative U-Turn is a term that was coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It can be defined as a point when an artist stops pursuing a creative goal or project; generally as a result of fear, negativity, or pain. Creative U-turns can take different forms depending on the type of art and the artists involved. Cameron notes many examples of this; the painter who picks a fight with the gallery owner at his first group show, the musicians who record a demo that gets an enthusiastic response and then stop working together, the screenwriter who doesn’t make any changes on his script for an agent are all examples of creative U-turns (Cameron,155). However, while U-Turns can take different forms Cameron theorizes they are usually a result of some sort of fear.

How should an artist deal with a U-turn? Well, according to Cameron, we should extend ourselves some sympathy and compassion (Cameron, 156). Creativity can be scary and in fact life itself is scary (Ibid). It helps to remember that artists are not the only ones to struggle with U-turns and various forms of self sabotage (Ibid). Lawyers, Doctors, Office Workers, and Retail Workers struggle with their own forms of self sabotage too. Cameron also notes that Creative U-Turns and failures are often a part of successful creative careers. She notes the story of Blake Edwards who spent seven years in a self-imposed exile in Switzerland following being fired from one of his own films (Ibid, 157). He returned to directing after deciding that using his creativity would be a better way to heal then sitting on the sidelines and he became aggressively productive with his main regret being the time it took for him to get to that point (Ibid). 

Sometimes a U-Turn might even be necessary. In this case I’m thinking about author Liz Gilbert. After the major success of her book Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert suddenly found herself with millions of readers eagerly awaiting her next project. Over the next year she wrote a first draft of what would eventually become Committed. However after completing the manuscript she realized that something wasn’t right. In her words, “The voice didn’t sound like me. The voice didn’t sound like anybody. The voice sounded like something coming through a megaphone, mistranslated.” Gilbert put that manuscript away turned her attention to her garden and other pursuits (Gilbert, xiv). She wrote, “…this was not exactly a crisis, that period when I could not…figure out how to write naturally…I even started wondering if maybe I was finished as a writer. Not being a writer didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world…but I honestly couldn’t tell yet. I had to spend a lot more hours in the tomato patch…before I could sort this thing out” (Ibid). Ultimately Gilbert’s U-Turn ended when she realized that while she couldn’t promise that her next book would satisfy millions of readers, she could write something that she needed to write (Ibid). She limited the audience in her mind from the millions of expectant fans to twenty seven important women in her life and wrote the book for them (Ibid, xv). Committed was published in 2010 and since then Gilbert has continued her successful career publishing her recent novel The Signature of All Things in 2013.

Recovering from a creative U-turn can require a great deal of compassion and patience. According to Cameron, the first step is admitting it. You have to say to say to yourself “Yes, I did react negatively towards fear and pain. Yes, I do need help” (Cameron, 157). The next step is to figure out what obstacles are the most intimidating. In Cameron’s words, “An agent jump may frighten you more then a workshop jump. A review jump may be okay while a rewrite jump scares your talent to death” (Ibid). Often at this stage Cameron advises looking for help from other successful artists i.e. asking them how they have done successful rewrites, gotten agents, recovered from bad reviews or conquered whatever challenge that you are currently facing (Ibid). Self reflection is a key piece too. Cameron notes that before any project it’s a good idea to ask yourself questions that remove any blocks between yourself and the work (Ibid, 159). These questions are as follows.

1) What am I angry about? The goal is to make a list about any anger you have related to the project at hand. Examples could be anything from resentment about being the second artist asked to do a show, to anger at an editor or director who constantly nitpicks your work (Cameron, 159).

2) What am I afraid of? The goal with this question is to identify any and all fears about the project or people connected to it (Ibid). You might say in this case, “I’m afraid of people not liking my work,” “I’m afraid of not being able to live up to my past projects,” or “I’m afraid that the only reason I got the part was my competitor had a falling out with the director and now everyone will compare me to him.”

3) Have I left anything out? With this question you are supposed to ask yourself if your current issues are all there is. Have you left out any anger or fear that seems inconsequential or trivial (Ibid)? This might be the part where you say “Ok…I am somewhat afraid of seeing that one musician/writer/director/etc. that’s always so condescending when he talks to me at any events.”

4)What do I stand to gain by not doing this project? With this question you need to find out exactly how you benefit from any self sabotage. The most common example might be “Well if I don’t perform/write this piece no one can criticize it or me.” This is by no means the only example though; others might be “I can criticize others from a less vulnerable position ” or “My editor/mother/significant other/ex will worry about me” (Ibid).

Once you have asked these questions and identified all your angers and fears you can then be more able to let them go. At this point Cameron advises making a deal with your creative force and saying “You take care of the quality and I’ll take care of the quantity” (Ibid, 160). Ultimately, whether we reflect and make our deals with the universe or simply follow Blake Edwards’ example of going back to work and picking up where we left off, navigating our creative U-turns is a challenging but often valuable part of our journey as artists. I hope that you will share some of your own creative U-turns and recoveries in the comments section. As for me, I might just go pick up the guitar.

Bibliography and Works Cited

“Biography.” Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert. Dave Cahill/River Net Computers, 2013. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/&gt;.

Cameron, Julia. “Recovering A Sense Of Compassion.” The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002. 154-60. Print.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. “A Note to the Reader.” Introduction. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. Xiv-vi. Print.

 

 

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.

The Importance of Feedback

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In my last post regarding competitions I mentioned the importance of feedback and constructive criticism. However I did want to go more in depth into this topic. Especially because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the competitions I’ve taken part in the past few years where judges will not provide feedback following the competition. I’m not sure why this is although I suspect it’s most likely due to, shall we say, vitriolic responses to a loss. While I can understand the desire to avoid such confrontations, as someone who values constructive criticism not being able to have any feedback whatsoever can add even more bitterness to an already disappointing situation.

Interestingly enough, this desire for feedback is apparently very common among my fellow millennials. In a piece in Psychology Today which discussed the millennial generation and their tendency to draw ire from older generations, one of the traits discussed was the constant need for feedback (Ellin, 63). Unfortunately the article noted that this can be seen by others as a bid for attention, a lack of know-how, or simply irritating (Ibid). However, the true motivation of the behavior (which I can certainly attest to as a millennial) comes from a desire to please (Ibid). Ultimately the desire for feedback is simply wanting to know that you’re doing a good job (or if you’re doing a bad job what you can do to improve) as well as a possible desire for mentorship (Ibid).

As an artist I feel that constructive feedback is highly necessary for improvement. After all, if a person doesn’t know that they are doing something wrong they will most likely never improve (and that’s true whether you are talking about the arts, the workplace, relationships, or any number of other topics).

Of course there is the argument that the artist shouldn’t rely on receiving feedback and to an extent I would agree. It’s important for those of us who are artists to have a basic level of confidence in ourselves and our work and enough self knowledge to be able to critique ourselves. Moreover, whatever judgment is cast on an artist’s work, they should consider the source of the feedback and weigh it against what they know about themselves and their work to decide if it is truly important. For instance, I discussed in my last post how I received feedback on my performance in a talent show with differing opinions among the judges. With that feedback I was able to cope with my loss by understanding that the judge who had experience with the music that I performed liked my performance very much while the other judges did not have that same experience so I did not have to take their criticisms to heart.

However I appreciate feedback and constructive criticism because I feel they are given when the person actually does believe in you, your work, and knows that you can improve. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens Sean Covey told a hilarious story about having sing in front of several music students and be critiqued as part of the requirements for private voice lessons (Covey). While a young man who sang a song from Les Miserables (which according to Covey sounded better than the original Broadway production) was critiqued, Covey after an “interesting” performance of “On the Street Where You Live” was simply told “That was great Sean” (Ibid). While the moral of the story is more about Covey overcoming his fear of performing in front of other people, there was a more subtle lesson that I saw as an artist. Even though Covey was shocked at the critiques of what he felt were amazing performances, as a singer I recognized the critiques as being a sign that the other vocal students recognized the talent of their peers and knew that they could improve whereas Covey’s performance met with no criticism because the students probably felt there was very little that could be done to help him progress. With this perspective in mind it can be highly upsetting to not receive feedback. Interestingly one of the best descriptions of why this can be distressing comes from article 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You by David Wong where he writes

 “If you apply for a job, which is worse — a rejection letter, or no reply at all? The former is bad, but the latter is dismissive, and that’s a thousand times worse–like you didn’t even open their resume before tossing it in the trash.”

 Ultimately, we will most likely have to take whatever feedback we can and understand that there will be those who are unwilling to give it. However, if I could give any advice to competition judges, I would advise them to allow some form of feedback for the contestants. I’m not saying that a judge should be subjected to vitriol from sore losers but simply talking to a contestant, having a chat later via email or phone, or allowing a performer to review any score sheets and notes would go a long way towards helping an artist (or anyone for that matter) develop more fully and thus could ease the sting that can come with an unsuccessful performance. If you are willing to accept the responsibility to judge a competition then you should be willing to at least provide some form of feedback to those that you pass judgment on.

 ***Readers: What is your perspective on feedback and its importance to your work? Why do you think judges or others might be reluctant to give feedback? Post in the comments below.

Bibliography and Works Cited

Covey, Sean. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.

Ellin, Abby. “The Beat (Up) Generation.” Psychology Today Mar.-Apr. 2014: 56-63. Print.

Wong, David. “5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You.” Cracked.com. N.p., 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-youre-accidentally-making-everyone-hate-you/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

Is Competition Good For Artists?

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From the time I was a child I’ve always felt a great need to please, to achieve and succeed, in short to win. While the reasons for this are probably a result of multiple factors and a bit too complex to go into here, I can say the need to achieve is a blessing and a curse. On one hand I feel that I strive to do the best I possibly can at whatever I’m doing which has led to achievement in many cases. On the other hand it can also cause crippling self-doubt, the constant feeling that I haven’t truly done enough and situations that, when I really think about them, can only be described as absurd (such as being upset when I don’t perform well in a harmless pickup game of volley ball when I don’t even like volley ball or sports in general and was probably dragged into playing the game in the first place). As a result of this, I find myself reflecting on my competitive nature and by extension competition.

Competition plays a large role in American society and there is certainly a fascination with it. There is the political realm with the competition between the parties as well as with other countries (think Sputnik or in today’s world the fears of the rising power of China). We’ve passed from Superbowl obsession into March Madness on the sports front. The world of the arts and entertainment is certainly not immune with shows like American Idol, The Voice, Project Runway and So You Think You Can Dance just to name a few. However, as an artist, I have certain qualms about competition particularly when applied to the arts.

I won’t deny that there can be benefits in competition. Artists can gain exposure, network with fellow artists, and receive feedback on their work. Winning a contest can provide a major boost of confidence while losing can help you learn what you need to improve on. There is also an argument to be made that artists will have to compete no matter what. After all, not everyone can be the conductor or star in the leading role. In short, there will be in everyone’s life “a time to win and a time to lose.”

Unfortunately, there are definite problems with competition in the arts. The most obvious being that art is by its very nature subjective. An individual’s favorite musician, artist, or writer might be (or heck, forget might be, probably IS) someone else’s most loathed. I remember a talent show I took part in where I played guitar and sang “19th Nervous Breakdown” with a friend accompanying on drums. We lost the talent show but the feedback was a definite example of subjectivity at work. The one judge that had experience in rock bands and enjoyed rock music gave us very high scores. Conversely, the other judges, who were most likely not of the same musical persuasion, were not as enthusiastic in their responses. Of course there are numerous examples of talented people who were overlooked and misunderstood by critics and peers. Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most well-known examples of this phenomena though he is by no means the only one.

Of course the issue of subjectivity does not account for general bias, favoritism, and nepotism which can be just as pervasive in the arts community if not more so. Shows with audience choice to determine a winner can simply lead to the most popular competitor winning instead of the most talented. Perhaps some of you reading this have seen examples of these factors in your own lives and careers; for instance, the mediocre actress who achieved a leading role while sleeping with the director or the arts council headed by people that have ethics more akin to members of the mafia.  

I believe that artists can benefit from competitions but we have to utilize them appropriately. We should not enter a competition to win but instead to learn whatever the outcome may be. Believe me I know this is harder than it sounds and even with this mindset I’ve still felt upset after a loss. However if we can master looking at competitions as a learning experience rather than a game that we must win, it will benefit our happiness and sanity. In conjunction with this we should take the opportunity seek feedback from reliable sources. This can be a contest judge or truthful friends and family members who appreciate your work but can be honest about any shortcomings. Ultimately, we should remember that our work is subject to opinion and interpretation which should liberate us to focus on our development as artists instead of trends or non-constructive criticisms. In the words of the Sue Sylvester of Glee (played by the amazing Jane Lynch) “There’s not much of a difference between a stadium full of cheering fans and an angry crowd screaming abuse at you. They’re both just making a lot of noise. How you take it is up to you. Convince yourself they’re cheering for you. You do that and someday they will.”