It is a hard thing to be faithful to your calling. I had a classmate in high school that sometimes gets national media attention for his musical accomplishments. Now, he is somewhat of a chameleon. He was for a time a member of the Back Street Boys. He made a solo pop album. He has reemerged this time as a country singer. Interestingly, every time I read about him, his bio changes a little and always seems to include some new fact that I know isn’t true. His latest “song” is the sort of thing that I hate most in this world. It’s essentially a pastiche of musical clichés in which the lack of musical substance is hidden by an equally pandering attempt to assemble trite patriotic phrases into some semblance of coherence. He has also managed to develop a country accent that he never had before.
It is quite easy to despair over the fact that in all likelihood, he will continue to be more well known and well regarded as a musician than I will ever be in my life. He will probably make more money than I ever will even though I have dedicated my life to becoming the best musician that I can be. However, there is one place of comfort. My friend Tom Trenney puts it like this. “It is the ones who love being a musician more than they love making music who struggle to embrace the wholeness of what we do.” Ultimately, I’m responsible for developing my own craft. I always come to the place where I realize that my calling is to faithfully nurture the gifts that I have been given instead of comparing those gifts to someone else. That’s a good place to be, and it always allows me much more freedom to celebrate the gifts of others more fully.
Very zen …
You're a true artist.
I understand I'm quite late, but I've only just started reading here. I'm torn on this topic to some degree and I am probably writing this a little prematurely before I have finished my thought process on it, but here goes.
First, I'm not sure how any or if any of this applies to your friend.
Second, I heard someone say that John Mayer (I have no idea how true this is) plays the music he does (the "sellout" radio version) to make money so he can play the music he wants (check out John Mayer trio, its a very different thing from his solo act and would probably not make him much money.) So then, how much credit is to be given to someone making money on music by selling out so they can play the music they actually want to?
Third, many people say music is about emotion. Sometimes simple sellout music displays emotion just fine. Or, better yet, what of music that is written simply and in music people will listen to and enjoy so they can convey a message? It seems a pretty gimmickey thing to do, however.
Fourth, what of the pure fun of it? I am a total metalhead. Not Metallica type metalhead (although there is nothing wrong with that) but more of a very complicated heavy metalhead. Things such as music written in 7/8 with random measures of 12/8 or 11/8, or a ska band with a dark song in 10/8. I say that to say that there can be something just blindly amusing and fun about stuff like green day. So how does that weigh in to musical integrity?
I'm not sure of the answers to any of these questions, honestly, just something I was thinking about.
Those are certainly the tough questions. I would say that some people can write honest music that is widely appealing to a broad audience of people. Robert Frost, for example, wrote some poems that have a broad appeal in the culture in a way that someone like T.S. Eliot never did. Eliot chose to work in a bank so that he wouldn't need to compromise on the artistic front. I don't think that Frost was selling out. I think he was just more accessible as a human being. I think that music that is written just for fun is important. Whether or not it is just written to convey a message is a difficult knot to unravel. That is a big issue in churches where the Calvinist tradition has always seen music as a means to an end where other theological traditions find meaning in the music itself without it needing to justify itself be its function. I would also say that when it comes to particular individuals, I find myself very reluctant to make judgments about their honesty. I don't have the same restraint with myself. I know right away when I am making the easy choice instead of the honest choice. Good thoughts.