A few years ago, back in the early days just after ‘Cusp’ had been released, I was being interviewed, and the interviewer mentioned Kate Bush and how she preferred to work in studio rather than playing live. And what did I think of gigging? ‘Oh yeah, I love it, it’s my favourite part of this.’ ‘So, you’re an exhibitionist?’ Eh. Hm. I was a bit taken aback, and the talk moved on then, but the (half not joking) comment stayed with me. I suppose the charge of exhibitionism can be levelled at musicians more than other ‘creative types’, especially musicians performing their own work, but in true esprit d’escalier, I have thought of an answer now.
There’s a showbiz cliché that the audience are as important as the performer(s). Before I started gigging, I used think this was the most cringey phoniness and false humility, but now I wholeheartedly agree with it. A gig is a collective experience and a good, moving or memorable one doesn’t rise or fall on the walking disaster of emotions and bodily functions onstage (i.e. the billed act), but on the atmosphere and the collective emotional space that everyone there creates (I can’t believe I just wrote that. Writing how you talk is tricky. Ah well).
When you work alone, motivation doesn’t always come easily, especially with the spectre of ‘will anyone actually listen to this?’ hanging over you. A quick glance on Bandcamp, Mixcloud, Soundcloud, Spotify, et-bloody-cetera will apprise you of the fact that thousands, literally thousands, of albums are released, or ‘put up’ every day, outside of the ‘proper’ music industry of big and small record labels, physical releases, and all that old-fashioned stuff. 8800 albums today on Bandcamp alone, and counting (as I write, it’s midday in New York), and that’s not taking into account the songs, demos, mixtapes that find a home/outlet on another music-delivery service, or the thousands (millions?) of people worldwide who write, play and record in their bedrooms (and probably also wonder ‘will anyone actually listen to this?’).
For me, music is about communication, and now, with the sole exception of playing a gig, my (music-related) communication exists online, as does most of my musical consumption. Yes, it’s wonderful, and so cheap it’s nearly free, and sooo convenient and all of that. But I’ve never been moved to tears by convenience, and I frequently am at gigs (not my own!), because of this elusive and beautiful atmosphere and collective emotional space that everyone there creates, not to mention the music that has brought everyone there.
Hands up, I like when my (music) work is valued. God knows, there’s no financial validation, so a round of applause is nice as a substitute. But (another cliché that is also true), music makes me happy, and sometimes when playing, I see (or imagine, with my massive and delusional ego) that someone on the other side of the DI box breaks into a smile. On bad days, that’s just my ego, salving my conscience, doing loop-de-loops of self-deception to ascribe good motives to the self-absorbed and self-indulgent path I’m on. ‘More claps! More cheers! Throw roses at me!!!’ On good days, I’m trying to do something positive, make nice music, and explore and/or work through elements of ‘the human condition’(gawd!). I’ve struggled with the two ends of the false spectrum of ‘making yourself happy’ and ‘making others happy’ (still do and probably always will), but my rational brain tells me that this spectrum is a huge over-simplification.
So, yeah, onwards. Back to work.