Will Smith said something so wonderful to Jimmy Fallon on Jimmy’s Tonight Show Debut. He complimented Jimmy on being successful because he cares about others. Then he explained that he taught his children the importance in remembering that they are creating art for the sole purpose of giving something to others, something that makes them feel good, and inspires them. He continued on to say that the reason so many people fail in the entertainment industry is because they start thinking only about themselves and what they get from their art. I couldn’t agree with him more.
It’s a tough thing to balance business and art. There is a fine line you dance between making sure that you are paid fairly for the thing you are producing as a business owner (yes, business owner), and the desire to open someone’s heart to laugh, to think, and to release what they’re holding onto, if only for a moment. As an artist, I have had to learn to let go of demanding people’s attention. My voice is only as important as the moment calls for it to be, but it’s taken so long to realize that if the moment calls for someone else’s voice, it doesn’t mean I’m not important. I’ve seen people stop playing sets because they don’t have the full attention of the audience. I’ve combated the frustration of a market so watered down with people who will play simply for a beer, and I’ve also been given great opportunity and compensation for the songs I’ve created. Some days, like anyone, you collapse on your bed at night hoping tomorrow will be better, and other days, you celebrate with your friends in the victory that came with that day’s cup of grace.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about what makes me “feel” the best. What separates the victorious moments from the defeated ones? I realized that it was in how I served others. When someone writes a beautiful note sharing how encouraged they were by a song, I’ve won that day, and so did they. When I help my friends through challenging waters in life, and I can see the relief the help brings them, then I’ve experienced victory. I feel best when I give to people. When I buy them lunch, when I give them a much needed hug, when they hear hope in my voice -- that’s what makes me feel the best. It’s others focused. My skill set involves story telling, but what if it were like that of several of my family members? Their skill sets involve understanding how the human body works, and in helping sick people get well through their research and use of chemistry. Their successes and failures are equally determined by their desire to help others and in the subsequent following through with such desires. I could have been a scientist, or a lawyer, or v.p. of a corporate financial institution, or a politician. These are the careers that run in my family, and when I look at the strong men and women that stand around me, what stands out to me is that they are a people who care about people. The reason I play music is for the same reason that many of my family members pursued their careers. They want to help people. Music happens to be the thing inside of me that makes the most sense. Sure, it’s a commodity worth buying, but the purchase of this commodity is meant to assist others. Nothing means more than when a person says, thank you, your song helped me get through a really difficult time in my life. This, is why I write and perform music.
I do not play for music’s sake. I do not think my voice is greater or less than any other person’s voice, and I agree with the underlying message in Will Smith’s statement. I play, I write, because what I have to give is hope, love, and a little bit of laughter.
Dear musicians, don’t be afraid to be compensated for what you are giving, but take an honest inventory within yourself as to what you are giving. Some people will listen, others will not. Some people will care and others will painstakingly wait until you leave the stage. Where are you on that line in between self righteous and quietly confident? I am asking the same questions of myself all the time, and I am so grateful to have incredible people around me to help keep me grounded and focused on the goal. I want to leave this place better than I found it, and I want to remember, my art is not for me.