I’m a snobby musician.
I judge, I complain and I rant about how musicians should be better at their craft and pay more attention to the details. I even use the excuse that I have refined taste (which of course I do) but the truth is my critical mind also hinders my ability to enjoy music.
It’s a disparity many musicians can relate to. We become good at our craft by noticing the subtle differences between good music and great music, but that becomes a habit that we can’t turn off.
Thank God for weed, you know?
So here I am, a snobby musician who needs drugs to enjoy music and I meet this guy named Dane.
Dane is a serial entrepreneur who after years of starting and running successful companies, decided that at the ripe old age of thirty-two he would give it all up and focus 100% of his energy on making music. He approached me, and we started working together.
Dane is a great student. He’s enthusiastic, dedicated and earnestly wants to make his entire life about music. We sat down and one of the first things he said to me was, “Dave, I want to sell out Madison Square Garden”.
I responded with a cautious smile. How I wanted to react was more like a grumpy old record exec saying something like “yea right kid, and I want a blow job from Marilyn Monroe”.
Do I really fantasize about Marilyn Monroe? No I don’t, but I thought it would give this story a more old-timey feel, so let’s go with it.
Dane has big dreams, and I can relate because I’ve been there. I’ve been as ambitious as anyone when it comes to wanting success in music, and that phase of my life is mostly behind me. Today I play music because I love it, and I’m not as attached to any sort of outcome or goal.
But here’s the thing.
I’ve met a lot of musicians who are just as talented as Dane, but they don’t get the same response. In fact, Dane is relatively new at music, so I was surprised to see that his first music video was viewed 64,000 times on Facebook, along with being shared 303 times (and counting). He’s getting an incredible response, and it’s genuine and sincere. Many people that don’t know Dane are happily sharing his music.
So what does a response like that say? How does that change our model of what we think music is really about?
I’d like to suggest something that may sound crazy, but it’s what I’ve noticed having played over 1,000 shows for many thousands of people.
Music isn’t about music.
On some level, music as an art form has it’s own intrinsic value, but the reason people rally behind musicians isn’t really about the music.
Music is the vehicle by which we deliver our soul. It’s the costume we wear so we can become something else, something magnificent, something dangerous, something inspiring.
Many people take a reductionist approach to music. They think it’s about how many notes they get right, how fast they can play or how high they can sing, but these factors are trivial at best. They aren’t why people really love music.
Here’s an example.
Why People Watch American Idol
Do you know why so many people watch shows like American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent?
It’s not because of the talent.
Not to say that the contestants on that show aren’t talented, most of them definitely are, but if people wanted to watch talent, they could turn on public broadcasting, or watch the thousands of other mainstream shows that feature musicians who have mastered their craft.
Nay dear reader, the reason people watch American Idol isn’t about music at all. It’s about courage.
It takes a boat load of courage to get up in front of a panel of judges, put everything on the line, and sing. It doesn’t matter who you are, that’s a scary thing to do, and we’re fascinated by it.
Courage is why we tune in, not skill.
It’s the same reason at an open mic when the host announces that there is a first time performer, that everyone stops to watch. It’s captivating to see someone put themselves on the line.
Even at the highest levels of music, the game isn’t skill, it’s courage. We’ve all watched musicians who are incredibly skilled, but boring. It’s because they are playing it safe, they aren’t risking anything, and so we tune out.
Which brings me back to Dane.
Dane is a 10 out of 10 on the courage scale.
Not only is he constantly putting himself out into the world, but he just finished a summer course at Berklee College of Music, surrounded by some of the most talented musicians in the world. He’s constantly outside of his comfort zone and that’s why people are tuning in.
What’s beautiful about what Dane is doing is I believe that’s what music is really about. Music isn’t a melody, or chords, it’s about pushing the edges of your self-expression. It’s about the human spirit, and what’s possible when we let go and let ourselves shine.
There’s so much talk about what it means to “make it” and I’ve always felt like that was a gross misrepresentation of what we really want out of art. What we really want is to play on our edge, and by all standards, Dane is playing on his edge, and it’s fun to watch.
The key to a great music career isn’t just skill, because the skill comes with practice, it’s also staying on this edge and constantly expanding, whether that means writing a song that scares you, or performing in front of hundreds of people.
Constant expansion, but not for the sake of getting anywhere, for the sake of being on your edge and displaying courage, which is why people are really tuning in.
I’m proud to be part of your journey Dane, and if there’s anything an old grumpy musician can pass on from my years of experience it’s this:
Every time you’re on your edge, every time something seems unsurmountable, you can rest knowing it’s exactly where you’re supposed to be. It was never about the music.
It was, and will always be, about courage.