Not so much the calm, cool, collected introduction of your work – to a world of widely varying opinions and, ultimately, vast and often harsh judgement. No, overly calm and cool would be slightly psychotic somehow.
Perhaps for some though, excitement and pride rule above all else. The confidence they exude in their social media outbursts, the evident hype leading up to it, the constant reminders, the constant subliminal (or not so) insistence that you will need this music in your life and you will be left out of all future discussions and events if you don’t download it.
In reality, I’m afraid it’s yet another of those annoying conversations that essentially boils down to the individual. For the introvert, releasing music is so categorically terrifying, yet so inescapably important – in the grand scheme of things. For the band, you share the pressure; you can share the excitement, you can share the nerves, and you can blame each other if it all goes slightly pear shaped.
For the solo artist, maybe you can take the Buddhist approach – detach yourself from any prior ideas of significance and meaning. You made this music, you put it out in the world, you carry on and move towards the next project. The outcome is irrelevant. Feedback is just conversation. People like to make conversation.
For most of us though, we cannot possibly detach ourselves from this soul quenching art that has nourished our very existence for the past year or so. We are married to this music. We are with it till the very end. We will move on, we will get better, we will always make more music – hopefully. But this will forever be a part of us. A part of our lives.
It’s a huge deal. So much more so than it is for those who press play at home and listen to, if an EP, about half an hours worth of ‘new pop’ while they cook dinner. This relationship between artist and audience is absurd when you break it down to such realities. Did we make this EP for you, just so that you could half heartedly listen to it? Did we make this EP for you at all? Why did we make this EP?
Maybe there was something we wanted to tell the world, but we just weren’t comfortable with talking about it. Or, we couldn’t figure out how to say it. People like to make conversation, but in all honesty; so many of us don’t generally know what we’re doing when it happens.
Music is our way of revealing ourselves to the world. Expressing our inner misunderstandings and worries. It’s our way of reaching out, putting up a flag, and hoping, just hoping, that someone will see it – approve of it, like it, relate to it. Get it.
It’s a big deal, when you really break it down. We’ve played our hearts out to make this record. We’ve played and we’ve played, and we’ve written every lyric and every idea under the sun down on post it notes, then in word pad, then in an email to ourselves. We’ve played until our fingers bled, we’ve sung until our voices gave way – just to get that moment, that one perfect sound, which flawlessly captures the feelings behind the line.
And then.. then we’ve listened. And listened. And re-listened. And listened somewhere else. And listened in the car. And listened with friends. And listened through shitty headphones. And eventually, after much self doubt, we’ve been elated. We’ve been proud. We’ve been ecstatic. And this is an incredible moment. But it is fleeting. And soon after we’ve been depressed. And hopeless. And on the verge of deleting everything. And on the verge of giving up on life entirely.
So much inner drama. And even after all of this – all of this and more. We still can only hand over to our audiences, this 30 to 60 minute series of musical moments, in the hope that they will find some time in their day to listen to it. Was our all encompassing self indulgence based on nothing but a whim? A risk? An over-excited ego?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all. The truth is, we needed to do it. It meant so much to us. Like everyone always says – it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. We lived and loved every single minute of that trip.
Whatever it is you’re sharing with the world – you want to know what people think. That’s partly why you’re sharing it, right? And the fact is – you will, slowly but surely; you’ll know every public opinion under the sun, if the internet has anything to do with it.
Everyone has something to say. Fortunately though, we don’t listen to each other. We talk and talk and talk, but we don’t listen. Even with music – we use music as background filler. That’s probably someone expressing their inner most difficulties and fears in life; we’re using it as background filler? I suppose it’s flattering in some way. We’ve chosen their music as the back drop to our day. It sounds lovely. But the words aren’t going in right now. We’re too busy living out our own inner most difficulties and fears. So we just.. don’t really listen to each other.
Maybe if we did, we’d discover something. Maybe we’d find out the answers to some of the questions that we hadn’t realised we’d been asking. It’s a hopeful prospect, but the fact of it is – there is so, so, so much music out there. Where do we even start? And how do we prevent ourselves from wasting time listening to the wrong kind of stuff?
What would be great, is if every artist, musician, writer, band – if they all wrote a few words, a sentence even, that encapsulated the very heart of their music, and used this as their biography or tagline. Then we could browse through everyone, and listen to only the things that struck a certain chord with our inner beings.
Maybe we could finally throw genre to one side, and use art the way it was meant to be used – to make us feel something, to make us understand. What a strange but slightly tempting idea. And what a terribly noisy place our lives would then become.
The mind bending struggles of a sportsman turning 45 and realizing he has forever craved the opportunity to teach Geography.
This one would be R&B. Or heavy metal. Maybe Hip-Hop. You just won’t know until you press play.
Releasing music into the world as an unknown, unheard of, underfunded musician, is a highly significant part of life for most artists. Its emotional, it’s important, it’s scary. It’s invigorating, it’s inspiring, it’s character building. It’s a moment of great reflection, of realisation, of relentlessly seeking peer approval and furiously disbelieving anything positive that anyone may say for the first few days.
It’s quite possibly everything that our entire lives have been leading up to. And yet, for the listeners, it’s just another record. Regardless of how much they like it. It’s something they can listen to later, when they’re free, or when they’re doing the washing up. It’s just music. It’s just.. music.
But music is everything to us.
11 responses to “What It Really Feels Like To Release Music Independently”
I’ve been writing songs for 50 years, sustained only by my stubborn belief in the calling I felt as a 13 or 14 year old kid learning chords on a Lowry organ my folks had purchased for the family. Over the decades, there have been long dormant periods when other aspects of life took precedence over my passion for writing songs. But the passion was always there and always came roaring back after the silent years.
I’ve never read a better explanation of why songwriters write than Rebecca Cullen’s posting. There’s a ring of truth to her words that suggests she’s walked the hard songwriting road herself.
I haven’t been exposed to the “to a world of widely varying opinions and, ultimately, vast and often harsh judgement” of my songs – I’ve never publicly performed my songs and family and friends have been largely indifferent on the rare occasions I’ve shared a song or two with them – so I most identify with the Buddhist approach she cites. A shrug of the shoulders and you move on to the next batch of songs.
Before the Internet, my songs ended up in the closet in boxes of cassette tape recordings. Now I post them on a Bandcamp and YouTube page which serves almost the same function as the closet, a digital hideaway to be not so much searched for as stumbled upon..
I certainly know what Rebecca Cullen means when she writes “We are married to this music. We are with it till the very end.” We are in it to the end for the same reason the painter or the poet or the cello player or pianist is in it to the end – because we love to do it and because we think we’re good at it, whether or not anyone else thinks we are.
“Releasing music into the world as an unknown, unheard of, underfunded musician, is a highly significant part of life for most artists,” she writes. “Its emotional, it’s important, it’s scary. It’s invigorating, it’s inspiring, it’s character building. It’s a moment of great reflection, of realisation, of relentlessly seeking peer approval and furiously disbelieving anything positive that anyone may say for the first few days.”
And it should be all those things. It’s like life. And really, that should be enough.
Thank you so much for the really thoughtful comment, it’s greatly appreciated and I’m glad the article connected with you. Keep writing songs the way you do. Thank you for reading!
This text made my day… I’m a 19 years old songwriter/musician and sometimes it’s so hard to deal with it (the 19 and the songwriting). It’s a beautiful thrilling journey living like this, and I can’t wait for what’s to come. All I can think about is: what’s next, Gabriel?
Thank you for the lovely comment – I’m so pleased that this affected you in such a way, and it’s great to read that you’re excited about what’s to come. ‘A beautiful, thrilling journey’ is a great way of putting it. I’m sure there’s so much to look forward to – don’t stop writing 🙂
A wonderfully thought out exposition, Rebecca. I identify with all the emotions you describe and I guess most of us creating music, unless we’re saturated with our own self importance, do so.
The most exciting journey for me producing music is the creation of it in the first place. While I’m writing it and recording the skeletal ideas it is the best music in the world, the highest elation for me. But by the time it is fully realized and officially sent out to the world I lose much of that powerful confidence; that belief in it that I had while composing it in the first instance – I want to move on to my next album project, and I can’t get to it quickly enough.
Once an album/EP is released, the reaction, or lack of, of people after that can have a deep impact, the more sensitive one is the harder it can hit. I have conditioned myself to expect the least as I understand no one will have the same umbilical connection to the songs as I do. They can’t have. I know the biggest fan of my work will always be me and that is why I continue.
As with you, I need to keep creating music, it is what defines me, subtract that and I’m wandering lost. We do it because we have to, we need it and hopefully others will, to some degree, want to be part of it as well. This we can’t control, but I/we love the journey as thankless as it sometimes may be.
Another excellent piece of writing and inward analysis Rebecca, it could not have been said better:)
Such a wonderful comment – as always – I love your insight with regard to creative matters. It’s comforting to know there are others who feel similar emotions around the time of release. I’d say you should try to hold on to that initial confidence for longer, but as I know exactly where you’re coming from – I’m fully aware that it’s far easier said than done. I really agree with the whole wandering lost concept; if it’s been a while since making something new, there’s definitely an air of unsettled anxiety, and slight confusion…
I believe your new album is out this week, I look forward to delving back into those tracks to mark the occasion 🙂 It’s a fantastic project, really – I hope many more people get a chance to hear it.
Thank you again for your very kind words!
It’s more about touring surely. Everything else is hobby stuff. That’s how I see it l guess.
Hobby or not, still something quite personal and nerve wracking for some songwriters
I really appreciate you helping me learn more about music. Just a sort of sharing, I am a music lover although am not that good at singing. It is my way of expressing myself and relaxation to de-stress my mind and my soul. I’ll keep on checking your posts, and yes, you are right, music is everything!
Great article. I had to share it. While we are into music…it is true for all forms of art. When I was in high school, I was in the musicals my junior and senior year. Our director told us the original of the word ‘amateur’ was ‘for love’. That sums it up to me for all us musicians and composers and others who do their craft of art even without the financial return…it is done for love. Love of self, love of the craft, love of others.
Thanks Joe, that’s exactly it – and precisely where most of the best art and music comes from!