In Pursuit of Unhappiness: A Lesson Learned

It's ok to change your mind.jpg

Well, it’s been a while. Guilty. Sorry.

I can make all the excuses in the world, but the simple fact is I didn’t know how to write the thing I needed to write. Things have taken a while to settle and resolve. And I’m generally always thinking about 200 things at once anyway, just as a part of my personality… Something’s got to give. This was it for a while.

So… an update…

The last few months have been fine, good, I would even say! But there’s been a lot going on. I just got back from a short tour with the band which was fantastic. On Sunday I had a radio session with Alpha Sessions which was brilliant but reminded me I needed to get back and blogging! (We chatted about it in the interview). I played a wedding in September which was lovely. I’ve been teaching. I curated a stage at The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival and ran up Colne’s hills at least 100 times over the weekend haha!

We got some live recordings on the tour I’m waiting on with the hope of deluxe edition-ing the album potentially or using them for a small EP (decisions, decisions!). I’m releasing a single at the start of November, with a music video which we shot a few weeks ago. And my album will be coming out in or around January 2019. So everything has been moving forward in it’s own time and is starting to come together.

I’m not going to lie though. Though things have been ‘good’, ‘busy’ and moving in their own way, I have struggled immensely with myself at times. I have been impatient and worried and very hard on myself at points. Last time I was here I talked about the pressure to look a certain way, but I didn’t really talk about the other pressure of acting a certain way, be it for social media or even just talking to fans or friends about your job. Being an independent musician is glorious in it’s own madness, but I feel it would be dishonest for me not to say that for me it is also uniquely hard on my mental health at times too. I always want to be seen as successful and the last months have been challenging that.

Over the last few months I explored my options on the business side with the record I’ve made. I talked through deals regarding management, licensing, PR, distribution etc. And none of it worked out, each for their own reason. Some of the deals would have lost me money I couldn’t afford to lose. Too much risk; not enough reward. Personality clashes. Ill timing. In the end I’d have been sacrificing a small slice of nothing at the level I’m at for some of the deals on the table.

Frankly, I regret nothing about the process because it’s taught me a huge amount: how to talk to people, network, what works for me and doesn’t in business and also that my music is valuable and others can see that in it and in me too. I was very proud I put myself out there even if I was rejected, or I turned away from a deal myself. It takes courage to do that.

When I finished the record, I felt a massive pressure to give it to the world in the way I thought was most valued: through a label, or with a distributor or with the help of management. All those ways that seem like the ‘real deal’ and as though they’d give me a boost of authenticity or be my magic golden ticket. I thought if I didn’t do that I, and the record, was a failure. I felt pressure I thought was external, but turned out to be internal.

This is where my lessons have been learned.

I’ve learned it’s totally ok to change your mind about what you think you want. At any point if you ask yourself, ‘why do I want this?’, and it’s because you feel you ‘should’ be doing a certain thing or to look a certain way to others, then you’re definitely on the wrong path. The values others place on us, and their opinions, are essentially invalid. If we are true to ourselves, and prove our own goals, then we are successful. It’s cliche but success starts in the mind and within. Everything else, money etc, is a by product and will not necessarily make us happy. My only goal with this record was to make something I love that’s true to my songwriting, but also experimental and arty and nuts and challenging for myself and potentially for listeners. I’ve done that and I know it in my heart that what I’ve made is good. That should be enough. I am of course, not impervious to criticism, but I am also aware that I make music because I love it, and I want to share my songs with people who care about them and relate in their own ways… whether that be 1 or 1000 people listening. A major deal could give me 500,000 listeners tomorrow, but would the value be the same? I don’t know.

I learned to ask for help. The very act of asking for help can feel like failure. It makes us vulnerable. And no human wants that. Especially in the age of social media and constantly sharing our greatest hits. In the process of seeking business advice, I reached out to other musicians, mentors, managers and promoters. It taught me so much and I got to hear a lot from the ‘other side’ too. I even booked a tour from it next year accidentally!

I also learned nothing is ever as it seems too. Speaking with friends and musicians, they reminded me to be careful of the industry and it’s smoke and mirrors presence. Whilst I am not a militant independent who hates the industry, I am aware it is exactly that; an industry; there to make money. It’s focus is not on the good ‘creative’ stuff. It has nothing to do with real value and everything to do with markup most of the time. It is also struggling in it’s own way. PR folks are hiking their costs as independents take to doing it themselves. Labels and publishers push to take more of a cut as digital revenue eats in to their physical sales. They’re trying to adapt as fast as they can, but there’s a lot of catching up to do in this fast technological world. Sometimes the fact that things don’t work out is not on you, but on those things.

I’m learning patience (or trying to!). I went back to square one after things didn’t work out, which means doing everything myself. Including paying for everything. For context, I teach 3-4 days a week and I gig, write and make my money doing anything and everything in between. I’m often left with little to no disposable income after I pay my rent and bills. So when you are mastering, and the next step will be manufacture for me, it takes a while to gather that together to move forward. [Note: this is why I currently have no new merch either – it’s going to come with the new record when I can afford it… and I’m working on it with a designer for one part having decided to delegate that out and the other I’m working on myself]. Furthermore, building a record means working with many other people even when you’re doing it yourself. Videographers, photographers, engineers, designers, even the aggregators (the middle men between you and places like iTunes) all have their own time frames and schedules to accommodate and work around. Good things take time. I’m figuring it out as I go. And even after many releases, it’s still a learning curve. I make mistakes frequently. And getting your house in order is it’s own slow process too.

The final thing is to do everything from love. It sounds very corny but Neil Gaiman’s 2012 ‘Make Good Art’ speech teaches me this over and over. There’s a particular moment where he reminds us to do the thing we love for love and not for money or for specific success in the eyes of others. Whilst we all need to make ends meet, the world has not ended for me yet, and it will go on ahead of me as before. I will not starve any time soon, I am generally pretty savvy and normally when I panic about that stuff, it works itself out anyway. I will continue to be able to make music if I want to in a way I want to, if I truly seek to do that. And if 1 person truly takes it to their heart, then I’ve hit my goal.

My new single ‘One Long Goodbye’ comes out November 5th 2018.





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