Strong Opinions Are Like Strong Odors Or Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Skin

Hi everyone! In keping up with a semi-regular output, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon Kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’re a musician, it’s easy to forget that you probably listen to music differently than non-musicians (i.e. most people).  That’s not to say that other people don’t listen to music passionately. It’s more about the fact that the number of times you need to listen to a piece of music to learn it is substantially more than it takes to merely appreciate it.  Learning parts to a song (guitar parts, vocal parts, etc) and getting those parts right requires a learned type of obsessive attention to detail that is alien to many casual listeners.

Consequently, you may find that you have a number of strong opinions as a result of familiarity with the subject matter.  You might know why you like a particular act or musician that your friends can’t articulate.  If you’re the type of person to strongly focus on one thing, you may be prone to carrying that focus over into other areas.

  • If you do something a lot that you care about, you’re likely to have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you’ve studied something intensely, you might have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you have a certain code of conduct that you adhere to and other people tell you to chill out; you might have some terse words for them.

Strong opinions are like strong odors.  Your friends won’t tell you that you’re rank, but your phone won’t ring either.

People generally meet strong odors and opinions with strong reactions rather than indifference (particularly in regards to opinions as they often feel threatened by strong opinions that aren’t their own).

My advice is to start building some calluses.

The difference between strong opinions and odors is that getting rid of an odor is much easier than getting rid of your opinion.

The good news for artists is that people are looking for strong opinions.  Audiences are moved by people who have a need to express something so strong that they need to physically manifest it.  I have collected music for years.  I have 122 gigabytes of mp3s from CDs I converted.  The last I checked, this is about 3 months of continual music without repeats…and  I still look for new music.  Even though I could never mark out the time to continually listen to all the music I already have!  I still look to be excited by what other people are doing, and many other people do as well.

People searching for something new is generally the market you want to reach as an emerging artist.

One problem many symphonies face is the demographic that had traditionally supported them is older and shrinking.  On one hand, showcasing new music (like the video game live tours) brings symphonic textures to a new audience.  The problem is that audience doesn’t want to pay $100 to hear Bach in a concert hall (which is something the people who are willing to pay that kind of money often want to hear at a symphony).  The people with money who go to the symphony generally want to hear the tried and true pieces that moved them in that (or a very similar) symphonic hall years ago.

Symphonies have a real battle in balancing contemporary programs with safe gentle pieces that won’t rattle the dentures of anyone sitting in the expensive seats.  Given the astounding production costs of maintaining an orchestra and performance hall outside financing (underwriting, etc) becomes increasingly important.  Even with fundraising, many orchestras have to tighten the belt and turn to alternative revenue streams and more diverse programming to try to get the bodies in the seats.

And now a word from Mr. Ives

You’llll have to search to find a non-vhs copy, but I highly recommend that you see a film called, A good dissonance like a man, which is a biopic about Charles Ives.  In addition to some excellent acting, the script is based on accurate historical research and comes across as a telling view into the life of a true maverick (Before people scoff at the term “maverick” – real mavericks almost never refer to themselves that way and instead let history make that distinction for them. Charles Ives was a true maverick.)

Ives also had a lot to say both as an artist and as a human being.  His comments below regarding consonance (versus dissonance) predate some sentiments expressed in this essay.

“… Consonance is a relative thing (just a nice name for a nice habit). It is a natural enough part of music, but not the whole, or only one. The simplest ratios, often called perfect consonances, have been used so long and so constantly that not only music, but musicians and audiences, have become more or less soft. If they hear anything but doh-me-soh or a near cousin, they have to be carried out on a stretcher.” from Charles E. Ives: Memos

Artistically, there’s no value in being all things to all people

Everyone wants to be accepted, and some opinions and ideas are confrontational and polarizing by their very nature, but by watering down your opinion, you also water down your message.

Watering down your message

(to paraphrase another Ives quote);

disappoints the artist, it disappoints the art and ultimately it disappoints the audience.

This isn’t to say that you should never compromise.  While some amount of compromise is necessary just to be human (much less an artist) you should recognize the difference between compromising and selling out.

When that little voice in your head says that people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you should take a long look to see if you’re doing something wrong or if other people just need thicker skin.

That’s a really difficult conclusion to come to objectively, but it’s certainly one worth investigating.

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

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