I’m sitting at my favorite cigar bar in Nashville, TN. I’m a member here which allows me access to an upstairs that is off limits to the general public. In most cases when I decide to come upstairs there may be a group of people just talking and joking around. A lot of times, especially in the middle of a weekday, there’s no one up here. It’s dead silent. Today, however, there’s a musician doing some song writing. I’m not sure who it is, nor do I dare try to find out. I know that it’s him and at least 2 other people. He has a soft rock, or maybe new age country sound. It’s just him with an acoustic guitar so it’s hard to say.
I’ve heard the same line repeated at least 30 times by now. I’ve heard him try a lower pitch, and higher, and somewhere in the middle. I’ve heard him change up the lyrics of the next line, and I’ve heard him just make sounds that weren’t actually words. He’s strummed, played, stopped, played, stopped, sang, stopped, sang, and repeated that process over and over and over again. I’ve heard them talk, laugh, and cheer after finding what they’ve wanted. I’ve heard a guy or two add a little rhythm with hand claps or foot taps, and add harmony.
Most of all today I’ve heard effort. I’ve heard what work sounds like. I’ve heard them try, and try, and try, and sound the same, or different, or I can’t tell. The most underappreciated thing is knowing how much work went in to a song that entertains us. We don’t know where that song came from. We don’t know how it started. Did he start thinking of this song in the middle of the night last night? Has he been working on it for the last 13 hours? Or has he been trying to get it right for 3 weeks? I’ve been in the upstairs portion of the bar since about 1 pm. It’s now going on 3 pm. They’ve been up here since noon. I know that because that’s when this place opened. Where were they before this?
Chances are they were writing somewhere else. Chances are this artist has had this song ringing in his ears for weeks and now he’s trying to put the words together to fit with the melody. That’s all speculation, but it’s probably not very far off. All that time, all that effort, and is it paying off? That’s really hard to say. If this group doesn’t have a record deal, but they genuinely love what they do, then it is paying off in a way. If they do have a deal, and this is another song to add to their collection that will be released on an album, then maybe it’s paying off in the financial sense as well. What drives artists to keep going through this grind?
I asked a guy I follow on Instagram. His name is Wayne Garner and he is the heart and soul of The Wayne Garner Band. You can catch him, @thewaynegarner, on Instagram if you want to learn a little more about him and listen to his music or, even better, give him a follow. I don’t know Wayne personally, but I did reach out to him and asked him how often he thought about hanging it up and just going to work a regular job. He was kind enough to respond with this, “Pretty much almost everyday. Something tells me not to and don’t be a quitter when you are on the verge of really breaking out having a very big career. It’s tough for guys and girls like myself who are self funded and have no sponsors or anyone backing them. In fact it’s almost damn near impossible. But you can give up or quite possibly be the Rocky Balboa of the industry or genre you belong to in your own era and that does seem to make it all fall into perspective. Make sense? Thanks for the question.”
What I like about Wayne’s response is that he actually responded for one. But really, I like how honest he was about it. He didn’t try to blow smoke up my ass and tell me that he loves every minute of what he does. He didn’t try to play it off with the “there’s good days and bad days” answer. Every day is a challenge when you have to give it a go on your own. It’s hard. It’s a grind. It isn’t a fairy tale. Maybe one day it will turn in to one. But it’s definitely not as easy as a 2 hour movie would make it seem. When you listen to Wayne sing, or watch him talk about a town, or a show, and you watch him play, he loves what he does. He really has a passion for it.
The only thing that I can compare an artist’s passion for their craft to is a parent with a child. Think of how many times you have to repeat the same thing over and over again to a child. Think of how many times every single day your patience is pushed to the limit. Think of how many years you spend trying to do the best you can for your child and sometimes that child still doesn’t pan out the way you were hoping. At the end of the day no matter how hard it is, no matter how bad it gets, you still love that child unconditionally. That’s how I perceive the way an artist views their craft. They aren’t all going to be superstars. They aren’t all going to be on awards shows. Hell, most of them won’t make a dime for all of their efforts.
It’s easy for the armchair music listener to listen to the radio, sit in a bar, or go to a festival and talk about how this band or that artist really sucks. I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve heard bands that I never want to hear again. I’ve heard people singing their heart out behind their guitar on little stages at the Nashville airport and have cringed at what I’ve heard. That being said they would equally cringe if they heard me on that little stage standing behind a guitar I don’t know how to play while trying to belt out tunes somewhat in key. Even when I cringe, even when I don’t ever want a band to be on the radio again, I still take a moment to respect the hard work they’re putting in. They’re following their dreams. How many of us can say that? How many of us are following our dreams? Was it really your dream to be in middle management in an office? Was it really your dream to work on an assembly line? Every one of us have critics out there that think we suck at our jobs. Not all of us could handle the stress that comes with putting our talents out there on a stage for the world to hear. Not many of us could take the ridicule that comes with the honesty of folks behind a computer screen making terrible comments on YouTube or some other site.
I’m not telling you to think that every song is good, or saying that every artist deserves a deal, or saying that you should change your opinion on music. I’m asking that you respect the craft that is song writing. Respect the artists putting in the time to bring these songs to life. I mean, seriously, the yodeling Wal-Mart kid got signed to a record deal. The “how bou dah” girl got signed to a record deal. I don’t think either one of them deserve a million dollar deal over over some really talented folks out there like The Wayne Garner Band or JJ Eckl from Pennsylvania/Wisconsin. (Look up JJ, too @jjeckl or http://www.reverbnation.com/jjeckl. He’s a great talent that works in carpentry to pay his bills). However, I have to respect that they were in the right place at the right time. They went “viral” and some exec felt they could profit off of these people during their 15 minutes of fame. None of us would say no to someone handing over money. I just wish it went to those who deserve it more often.