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Artists: Free to Create, or Slaves to Popularity?

Wouldn’t it be your dream to get signed to a major label, have your first record sell a million copies, open for the Rolling Stones and win a Grammy? Vernon Reid, legendary guitarist of Living Colour did just that.  Here’s what he had to say about it in an excerpt from my new documentary film “Welcome to the Dream: The Rude Awakening of Rock Stardom”.

 

Vernon Reid: Free to create, not a slave to popularity

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor John Stamos presented Vernon with The N.Y.C. Mayor's Awards for Arts & Culture in 2009.

“Huge success can also be a liability too…  All the sudden you have something to lose and something to be fearful about.

You now have a reputation to uphold. You can become a slave to props and status. Mega-stardom is much more AND much less then I thought it would be”.

Vernon is one of the very few recording artists who have been able to survive the collision of art and commerce without drugs or alcohol.  He is a TRUE artist; never losing sight of his craft…never letting fame distract him. Artists like Vernon are able to assess popularity as a status and condition at a given point in time rather than a chronic classification.

popularity can be a distracting liablility

BILLBOARD MAGAZINE published it's first 'Music Popularity Chart' on July 20, 1940, gauging the Artists' WORTH on units shipped.

For an artist to HONESTLY express himself without any inhibitions he needs to have a great sense of confidence…which can be easily misinterpreted as rebellion or ego.  He is the one creating art to satisfy HIS OWN eyes and ears, not someone else’s.  He should never let the unpredictable emotions and ever changing opinions of his fans influence him.  But of course, he does…he thrives on the flattery, but is crushed by unfavorable reviews.

young artists put emphasis on ‘friend counts’ as a gauge of how ‘good’ they are

Are you spending more time PICKING or CLICKING? Be HONEST with yourself...has THIS become your focus?

Young artists put WAY too much emphasis on ‘friend counts’ as a gauge of how ‘good’ they are, and even though networking IS important, social status and popularity has turned into a misguided objective that directly effects their ability to create ART FROM THE HEART…with no other agenda.

It’s very strange that during the creative process, an artist creates only for himself, but lets his fans pass back to him a ‘final rating’ of which can never let go of. Popularity can provide momentary adrenaline boosts, but as Vernon said, also become a distracting liability that can never be shaken, and it will ALWAYS influence subsequent creativity…which can be good AND bad.  GOOD, if it throws emotional kerosene on his creative fire; BAD if spite becomes his sole agenda.

Sincerity is pure in a band's garage days

There is NO time more pure, fun and free than the garage days. Why is everyone so anxious to get out?

This is why most bands absolute best work – in terms of sincerity anyway – comes out of their first few albums; before all the distractions and criticism influences what they were compelled to do naturally. Would a band actually ever ‘sell out’ if they had no one to sell TO?  Popularity is like gravity; what goes up must come down…and remember: the higher up the ladder you climb the more likely you are to lose your balance, and the further you have to fall.

THERE IS AT LEAST ONE MUSICIAN IN OVER 55% OF U.S. HOUSEHOLDS.

“Artists and writers experience two to three times the rate of psychosis, suicide attempts, mood disorders, and substance abuse than do comparably successful people in business, science, and public life.”

Study by Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig, a psychiatrist at the University of Kentucky Medical

THERE IS A SOLUTION.

Please help make it happen.

PROBLEMS CAN’T BE SOLVED WHEN YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM.


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3 Comments

  1. […] You’re getting bigger turnouts at the local shows, you got a whole bunch of Facebook friends (is this important?) there’s even been more hot chicks around who are even starting to wear your T-shirts…  So how […]

  2. Alice says:

    Very good article and i agree with much of what it says here. It seem like a double edged sword realy. You need to build and maintain popularity because you need this to make money to survive.
    As an arist yes first you have to please yourself, But as an ‘entertainer’ your objective is to entertain and please an audience, thats what they are paying for. I also think as an entertainer you can produce great art with the intent of pleasing others and it is not an uninspired or negative thing if putting on a good show you take pride in. Its this what comedians and magicians do after all, is try to get the best response from an audience. I think the key is to stay grounded and know you can’t please everyone.
    I think it is the downfall of many people in that a persons self worth becomes based on their job performance instead of who they are s people And this can be any profession, but I think it is amplified for artists because they are offering up something very personal through their art.

    • Skates says:

      The actual act of creating art is always an incredibly rewarding and perfect experience for the artist, we always are satisfied and content for the most part. But as soon as it leaves the room, it is subject to so many variables; criticism, marketing, etc. that the artist second guesses himself too much, and fear starts building. You’re right Alice, and as James Taylor said “you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself”. Thanks for a great comment!

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