LA bound J. Searle making moves. Right off the plane and into York Studios. This feels right. I’m very excited to again get the opportunity to travel and meet great people in the industry; those hidden magicians behind the curtain that really make it run. I’m talking about producers, songwriters, engineers, publishers, and the A&R (artist and repertoire) representatives. Add managers and agents to that list as well. It’s a super competitive field with many wheels turning because we cannot do it all alone. Growing up in Kansas City, a naive sense of the music industry is bound to take hold. The thought was, work hard, play shows, write good songs, write great songs, release records, get some kind of look together that matches the music you’re making and magically … the word will just spread and the right people will hear the glowing reviews and suddenly a record contract would fall into your lap. This is not so. Not even close. For one – making a great song and maintaining a band or being a solo artist is difficult in and of itself, but add the insane amount of meta data and research you have to do just to put your music into the right currents is a complete pain in the ass for most artists. There are an estimated 40,000 new songs added to Spotify every single day. There’s a deluge of 30 sec videos out there every day wanting to grab your attention. If you’re not in the right pipelines, you’re out of luck. So, beyond hashtag research and better content and Linked In cold Emails, what is missing? Face time with real professionals on their turf: NY, LA, Nashville, & Atlanta.
The World Series will not come to your home. If you’re an aspiring baseball player you’re going to have to take the direct routes. There are tryouts, colleges, and finally if you’re lucky you’re hired on a farm team, developed, and then you’re put into the majors. But you have to go to the locker room, and you have to get on the field with everybody else. And just like in baseball, your stats matter. How much online activity have you gathered? What are your Spotify streams, etc? Baseball is not just played for the love of the game and neither is music. Not if you’re trying to make money from it.
I say all of this because again, getting over these harsh realities, this level of naïveté that growing up in KC cultivates must change if we are going to be taken serious in the industry. Our lack of industry within entertainment has its roots in the technological advancements of film and audio. The coasts get those first. They built the industry. So we are doubly behind both in the aforementioned tech realm but also in the business world.
Economics begins to really guide the psyche of a place. With the insane cost of living that comes with residing in a major city, comes a sharp reality that engages the drastic hustle that one must take to make a living to be able to survive in a place like NY. You’re forced to be intense. You’re forced to use and think about your time much more judiciously.
In KC with the insanely low cost of living, professional attitudes tend to wang. You can afford to chill. And with it the overall climate is much slower in terms of innovation, business savvy, the movement towards competitive qualities in the area of media. You can afford to moralize everything to death and be more precious about your art. This is just not possible in the hyper-competitive world. You’ve got to fail hard and fast and get up before it gets too comfortable on the ground.
I’m having to learn this late in life. Believe me, I’ve always been late to the tech/social party. I saw first how much time my friends and I put into Myspace and where did that get most of us. When fb came around, I saw it for what it largely has become, an ill-informed gossip column. So, I stayed away. I refrained from selfies and found myself spending too much time hating on trends and vanity – scoffing at hashtags and overblown sentiments from a horde all clamoring to be the next influencer posing in front of a health shake or a pair of bare feet with an exotic beachy background and some trope written across the photo like “office for the day.” And I saw it as sad. Clearly everyone’s being coerced into acting like celebrity and slowly we’re all just advertising to each other ready to gnaw on any fragment of attention that we can gather. And we’re getting played by the real advertisers out there who run social media because we imitate the modes of being that they profit from. We all want to fit in and feel valued and that’s why these techniques work.
So, finding a way to do it all on my own terms and be able to look myself in the mirror everyday knowing that the core of who I am still reverberates through my thoughts and actions has been hugely important to me. But it does mean I have to swim in the swamp. There’s no getting out of that. And it also means that I have to move into exposing my inner world more often which is very uncomfortable to me. If you’re raised in the Midwest there’s a general sense of any kind of peacockery, any iota of public show that you are happy living an “out loud” existence is frowned upon. It’s a sense where being humble and self-hatred are eternally married. That’s the sly move of the humble brag. Feeling yourself, especially in white culture, is seen as a lack of respect and near sinful. Well I’ve got to shed that bullshit.
There’s this whole thing in the Bible that basically says you shouldn’t talk about your good deeds. I have gone over and over this and I’ve determined it’s a destructive concept. Why? Because we are social animals who are genetically programmed to chase vitality. How are we supposed to relay positive messages and ways of being in the world if we are not proud of our most decent and humane actions? Is this not precisely the place where vitality dwells?
So, I’m stepping out and coming down from my mountaintop cave in this hidden corner of my mind and I’m slapping what I’ve got to share in the table. It’s really unnerving. Decades of cultural knots that I’m trying to untangle and it’s pissing some people I love off. But every time I take a step forward, I feel more free, more honest, more loving and open. My world gets better and that’s enough for me to brave the disappointment and shame I see in the eyes of family, friends, and peers. The thing that you never really hear about when leveling up is the devastating heartache that comes from having to leave some people behind.