Why add to the noise?
There’s a line from the 1995 Sabrina remake movie that I’ve always liked. Sabrina, the poor chauffeur's daughter says to the multi-millionaire business man: “Sometimes more isn’t better, Linus. It’s just more.”
As cliché as it sounds, excess is a condition that plagues our culture. From food, to goods and services, to arts and entertainment, we are blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with more than enough of what we need, and faced with exorbitance on a daily basis. Our options are limitless. We are so over-saturated with things we “need” that we become exasperated by our surplus. Our dumpsters are filled with uneaten food. With great agitation we shove our excess stuff into overflowing closets. Our roads are overcrowded with all of our massive gas guzzling cars. The other day, I think I overheard myself say something like this to my husband: “I’m stressed with keeping up with all the things I want to watch on Netflix!” No doubt, my stuff stresses me out. And yet when faced with the option to downsize or simplify, I become fearful. What if I NEED that someday?
20 years ago, when I started writing songs, the music industry was different. There was no such thing as “online streaming” and record labels still essentially served as “patrons” to artists who were heavily invested in and vetted. The artist was expected to do the art (writing, playing, performing) and the record label handled the marketing, business, etc. But obviously, the internet and advent of the home studio changed all of that. Suddenly, you didn’t have to have a record deal to get your music out there. You just had to have enough technical knowledge and cash to build and utilize a home studio, and enough marketing know-how to get your music to your listeners on one of the multitude of music platforms available to artists now. It requires scrimping and saving, but it can work. And at the onset, a lot of us artists felt emancipated from the profit based standards of the despotic Record Industry, like we could take our careers into our own hands.
But suddenly, we were faced with two challenges. For one, the artist had to simultaneously act as a writer, businessman, marketer, and engineer. We had to wear every hat ourselves, whether or not we were inclined to the multitude of disciplines required to make a record successful. The other challenge was the unforeseen barrage of competition, of seemingly infinite numbers of new artists and music that was suddenly out there to be consumed. And no one was vetting those options. No record label was there to tell anyone they’d failed the audition. No one was there to tell you your music just wasn’t good. And unfortunately the Millennial generation, who was raised with the value of individualism and spoon fed daily doses of affirmation in elementary school, enthusiastically embraced this new context before we could realize just how challenging it would become.
Here’s the trouble: at this very moment, through my phone I have access to purchase and consume girl band pop music from Taiwan, Bollywood hit makers from Mumbai, the small town Baptist Church of your choice Christmas 2007 Cantata, and an EP that some dude in Akron, Ohio threw together in his mom’s basement. I am competing with all of these people! And to distinguish yourself from it all requires an impossible combination of marketing genius, never ending hours of labor, and a strong dose of good luck. Furthermore, the immeasurable number of choices is symptomatic of a larger cultural problem: that we have access to too much and too many options to make choices that are actually good for our souls. At some point, it's become a cacophony of excess, a chaotic accumulation of noise.
So why would I choose to spend my own money, that I scrimped and saved, to add to that noise? Why be part of the problem (and I can’t say, “because I think my music is good enough for people to really love and connect with” because EVERYONE thinks that about their own music!)
In his book Bluebeard about a visual artist, Kurt Vonnegut reflects on the fact that in ancient times, each village or small town had one cobbler, one butcher, one carpenter, and a very small group of artists: one story teller, one writer of songs, and one painter or drawer of beautiful pictures. And that one artist served the needs of their local community. Their art reflected the unique perspectives, tribulations, and triumphs of that community. And naturally, they were not competing with artists across the globe.
In the spirit of that concept, I’ve tried to create an album that reflects the needs of my own “local” community. The term “local” is morphing almost daily it seems. My community is no longer determined by geographic barriers. My community in many ways is a family of aid workers spread across the world doing similar work that we are all passionate about. My community is a larger audience of Christ followers who are somewhat disillusioned by the hard-line evangelicalism of their upbringing. And of course, my community is a populace of mountain dwellers who call the high country home, who love the windswept hillsides of Western North Carolina.
And it’s because of community that I’ve been able to overcome that first challenge of the new world of the music industry. I’ve managed to find friends who are strong in all the areas I am weak. It’s a community of artists and business people who have come alongside me to share life and help me create something I could never have on my own. Whether it’s through engineering and producing, photography and design, electric guitar or violin, these folks have filled in the gaps in such a way that I can focus on what I’m most passionately inclined towards: songwriting.
I guess the moral of the story is this: support your local artist, if their art is in fact worthy of your support. If you are an artist who truly believes in your work, write music that embodies the story of your own unique community. And don’t try to go it alone. Even if it takes time to build that network of support, invest your efforts in that, and you will not regret it. And to consumers of art and music, I’d encourage you to remember that more isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just more. So choose art that is good for your soul, that roots you in the time and space that you actually occupy, and that articulates the story of you own unique journey.