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Reflections on Coping With Negativity Towards Your Art

This morning I was reminded of an occasion when I had to face extreme negativity towards the music I made and the people I was making it with. This particular incident happened around 12 years ago and to my shining glory, it was all captured on video and broadcast for the world to see.

I was never a fan of “talent” shows. Pitting talented people up against each other to deem who was more worthy of getting closer to a grand prize was never going to actually work out well, was it? No matter how much faith you and even the people closest to you could have in your art, your skills and worthiness would be deemed by people who might have been having a bad day. I went along for the ride, it seemed like a good idea at the time and sure, what other means did we have of getting ourselves known to the general public and to what we hoped, would be relevant music people? The occasion also served as a common goal for us to work towards. We needed such goals for they came few and far between.

Smokey-eyed, hair teased sky-high and armed with our guitars, we set off with a killer song we were sure to assert our authenticity, credibilty and artistry.  Our song was simply kick ass: co-written with top Irish music producers, we had riffs, guitar solos, hard hitting drums and a singalongable melody. We poured so much hard work into crafting the song and we felt it set the benchmark of who we were and who we wanted to become. Personally I had struggled so hard with the sound of the band for years- I always wanted us to rock more.

Of course, when I say “we”, I mean myself and the singer. It was a complicated set up because we were the ones with the vision and the drive to carry the band on, year after year. Drummers and bass players came and went and though we always wanted them to feel a part of the band, they could never be really. The band was a two-piece and even we ourselves, couldn’t handle that. We thought a band should be a 4-piece. Looking from the otherside, those subsequent musicians must have felt like aliens, stepping into our world. We had years of experiences together and had clearly grown together, anyone else joining us must have felt like enablers to our cause. Our cause, not theirs.

It was so very hard to find the other two members of our band, but we did eventually find them, in fact it was only a year or two later when we did. Which seems like a short time frame looking back but back then, it felt like forever. And when they came into our lives, it just clicked and felt right straight away. They got what we were doing and were actually excited about it. But that lineup isn’t the subject of this reflection.

So there we stood, four early-twenty-something year olds, with our guitars and Converse runners, on that stage. Huge cameras pointing at us and 3 people sat behind a table, waiting for us to show them what we had. We were immediately put off, this wasn’t your usual gig. Where was the audience? Where was the vibe?! It felt like a science experiment. Cold, calculated and analytical. And we were expected to show the best version of our art under those circumstances.

Off we went, I started the sha-bang with my signature power chord chuggy riff, followed by the singer with her melodic hypnotic melody. Seconds later, BANG! The rest of the band came in and we were off. We rocked our socks off. Okay the bass was out of tune and the drummer gave us perplexed looks throughout but we held it together. Maybe I shouldn’t have held that high F# during the breakdown, a nice F# power chord feeding back would have been tastier sounding but still! We were pretty damn tight.

To be told your image and your sound was a joke directly afterwards though was humiliating. One of the other panelists did apologise on their behalf but it meant nothing. It seemed shallow. My chest tightened up in disgust and I actually don’t know how the voice of the band was able to say calmly “Thanks for your opinion” because I was ready to cry! How angry I was to be called a joke. What was funny about us? What riled that person up so badly that they needed to hurt us so viciously? It was the single most rudest comment ever made to me in my life to date and ever since, I’ve always thought that person was hollow.

Especially when we came back the following year with our new lineup, they couldn’t get enough of us. What the difference was, we could never understand. I’ll still never understand.

On reflection, I believe that person was sent to us to teach us a lesson about respect and dignity. And I also believe that person was sent as lesson to me, personally. Meeting people like them, the ones who show disrespect and claim your art has no value can be hurtful to your very core but you’ve got to remember why you make art in the first place- for yourself. If you don’t make (in my case) music, that you personally enjoy, how will you ever expect people to find value in it? The music industry is vicious, it’s always looking for the next hottest thing, the catchiest single, the most mouldable people to exploit. It’s very easy to throw your hands up and fall into trends in order to make that hot record that people will deem worthy of radio play or whatever. And if that’s your path, cool. Just be mindful then that it’s not art your making, but a product. And if you’re cool with that, then cool. I’ve only ever created music that I wanted to hear and yeah, maybe that’s why the band never made it.

Not everyone has to like what you’re doing or get you, it’s grand for others to have opinions but to be told that you’re a joke is the wrong way to go about saying “You’re not what we’re looking for”. I’ve met people since who didn’t particularly care for my music production style or my thesis idea but for that humilating experience in 2006, I’m more able to cope with it. I believe art is about making something you want, not what other people want. I’ve been called a “maverick” multiple times by ones closest to me and I’m reminded to keep doing what I’m doing. We all need a reminder like that once in a while and if you’re reading this and that’s all you get from it, cool.

The next time you meet someone who openly mocks you, just stand your ground. Don’t bother arguing with them. They don’t like you already for some reason, they’re not going to change their mind if you argue back.

On reflection, maybe I should have sought different people to rock out with. People that were into the music I was into. But I always had blind faith that this was the right band to be in, even though they wern’t particularly into the hairy heavy rock bands I was into, they were interested in recording music and writing songs and playing on stage. The fact that they were different from me was always going to result in things I couldn’t foresee and even though that bothered me at the time, I see now that was a great, organic thing.

I’m still evolving. I’m still learning, thinking, reflecting and more importantly, I’m still creating. I like what I create and I don’t actually care if you don’t. I’m open to suggestions to improve my art but really, I have to make music for myself. If you like it, yay! It’s all about vibration. If you like my vibe, happy days.

So in conclusion, always stay true to yourself and never twist your art into something you think people want. It just won’t serve your spirit.

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