Whenever I tell people I made an album (which isn’t often) I always get the same response. First they quickly acknowledge that it’s cool that I released an album. Then second, they always say that they used to make music, but they would never make an album unless everything was perfect.
Now you’ll notice that I said, “People.” This isn’t a one time phenomena. And it always struck me as odd that multiple people have said the exact same thing. As General Patton said, “If everybody is thinking the same thing, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Then there’s the actual music producer community. If you go on any music production forum, there’s always the one guy who is a know it all. Yet if you listen to their music it’s always so bland. I remember one guy who spent $800 on a new synthesizer, made one song on it, and never used it ever again–lecture me on the microphone that I was using, since it wasn’t in industry standards. Let me repeat that INDUSTRY STANDARDS. As though we were real life music producers.
Yet I see the same pattern emerge over and over again. When people aren’t shilling out T-shirts, buying thousands of dollars worth of equipment, or not making music because they’re a “Perfectionist;” they’re trying to live in this make believe world like they’re apart of the music industry. Which they’re not. I’m not. You’re not. None of us are. Like I’ve said we’re in the underground. Whether we like it or not.
Yet there is something existentially terrifying about being in the underground. It’s a certain type of fear. It’s the fear of the cringe.
Nobody likes to be mocked, nobody likes to be made fun of, and nobody wants their art–that they’ve poured their everything into–to be cringey. In fact I am willing to bet, if you were to ask most artists whether they would be mediocre, or cringey. Without a doubt they would chose mediocrity.
It’s why there’s so much of an emphasis on imagery in the underground scene. Where people become their own corporate brand, where they measure twitter followers, and soundcloud plays like a stockbroker following the stock market. I’m guilty of it. You’re guilty of it. We’re all guilty of it.
Yet it’s not to measure success. Nobody is really making bread. I mean, there’s always the potential to make millions. But what do you hear more of: the amount of followers, likes, listens, comments, retweets, and shares their music has? Or how much money they’ve made since making music?
So why do we do it? Why do we keep up with social media? Why do we care so much about arbitrary numbers? Why do we care about industry standards? Why does everything just “Have to be perfect?” I’ll tell you why. It’s all about validation.
You see why scares people the most when they see a Tommy Wiseau, a Chris Chan, or any other cringe phenomena–is that maybe they’re like that too. We all have cringey moments. We all have flaws. Yet what makes people so cringey is the lack of self awareness of those flaws, and when push comes to shove they will always double down in the cringe.
Yet the same characteristics can be seen in any great artist. So what separates a Marlon Brando, from a Tommy Wiseau? Why was Marlon Brando so easily able to express himself fully in a way that was palatable to the masses, while Tommy Wiseau was unable to?
And the answer is simple: one wanted to be an actor, and the other wanted to be an actor. You can always tell when an artist HAS something to say. With that desire, that vision–that ember that’s burning deep inside of them–you can always spot them. There isn’t any seeking any validation from them. It’s not because they’re so aloof that they don’t care. It’s that they don’t give power over to other people. And really that’s the crux of the issue.
Was the reason you decided to make music was to be liked by people? To have people pat you on the head and tell you how much of a good boy you are? Or did you make music so that you can express something that you’ve felt? To make something that’s your own, that’s special to you, and you alone.
Or better yet, here’s a test for you. If nobody listened to your music, would you still make music?
Because no matter what, even if Marlon Brando never made it big, and would only be in the local theater he would still be an actor. Tommy Wiseau if he didn’t have 6 million dollars from selling Korean leather jackets (?) then he wouldn’t have been an actor.
No matter what I know I’m going to create. I’ve failed far too many times, took far too many risks, and I am either the dumbest/most stubborn person alive to keep on creating. Yet I have to do it. The question is, who do I give power to myself? Or to other people?
So when you make a song, or do any other creative endeavor–you should have nothing to fear. Because if you remain true to yourself, and make art that is yours, and yours alone. Then nobody can take that power away from you. And that my friends is how you avoid the cringe.