Be The Artist You Have Become

Sound advice from a longtime friend

Image by Angie Lizotte
“Be The Artist You Have Become” –Unknown

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine that took a profoundly illuminating turn. It started as an exchange of observations surrounding the current state of music and how drastically everything has changed in such a short period of time. We talked about the dwindling revenue streams aided by the invention of digital and streaming music, and I pointed out how unsustainable touring has become as well for many of the same reasons. Hence, earnings are not keeping up with expenses.

They are simply too disproportionate.

I quickly realized that much of what I had to contribute to the conversation had me sounding like a broken record. I always find myself offering my take mostly on the challenges a struggling indie artist faces. This is the perception I’ve been carrying with me for many years now, and it seems that it still has its fiery grip around me. At times, it can be creatively and emotionally paralyzing.

Paralysis is a core feeling I think we can all relate to in one way or another — like your head is just above water and you’re the only person in the world who is drowning. It can feel hopeless, disorienting, and isolating.

My own creative paralysis has been the catalyst for so many hours, days, weeks, months, and eventually even years of creative time unspent. It’s the kind of internal dialogue that has me looking in the mirror more often than I’d care to admit, asking, “Who is this old man staring back at me?”

I’m 35 years old with over 15 years of experience as a working musician, yet I’ve been labeled an “emerging” artist throughout my entire independent career. I am perpetually emerging according to the media and anyone else who measures my “success” up against the likes of any well-established artist. Pop darlings like Rufus Wainwright and Adele who have really “made it” in the public eye — and have had the seemingly rare opportunity to achieve a very traditional definition of “success” in music — all remain tough acts to follow as an independent artist without a big label and even bigger connections.

It suggests to me that there is a serious disconnect between the public perception of the music business today and the unglamorous behind-the-scenes reality of it. There are no clear distinctions between “emerging” artists and artists who have “made it” today like there used to be during a time when the music industry was truly a sustainable one. There are so many aspects to this of course, but so many artists today are unsure of how to proceed with their careers and how to truly measure their own “success” as a result. It urges me and any other independent artist outside of the one percent of super-stardom to reimagine and redefine their idea of “success” entirely.

Their chances of any artistic survival at all now depend upon it.

For me, these challenges raise questions like: Where would I be if I wasn’t pursuing music? Would I be behind a desk somewhere eight hours a day? Would I be pursuing the other side of my childhood adventures in musical theater — waiting in audition lines for casting calls — or better yet, co-starring with Topher Grace in a major motion picture? (Funny story about co-starring with Topher Grace, but that is a future article within itself.)

And where would I be without music to begin with? It has fed my soul since before I could talk according to my mother. She remembers me singing the Walton’s theme song before I was formulating sentences. Music has framed most of my life’s most cherished experiences since I was a child. It has undoubtedly even saved my life at times. It has shaped me into who I am today, and pursuing it has made my life abundant with inspiration, community, support, and happiness.

Music brings me a radical sense of inner purpose, and that is my kind of “success.” The happiness kind.

The sustained lesson here is that we have choices in life. And it seems to me that the best choices in life are deceptively simple.

In a glorious attempt to persevere in spite of a crumbling music economy, I realize now that I have defined “success” on my own terms as an indie artist because I have mostly operated on the simplicity of what makes me happy. Could it be that effortless? The more I practice this awareness, the easier it is to make room for more happiness, more fulfillment, more creative time, more compassion, greater expansion, better relationships, and healthier decisions.

Image by Angie Lizotte

Marketing maven Marie Forleo’s motto is, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no,” and if you ask me, those are words worth living by.

So back to that conversation that took a profoundly illuminating turn. My spirited rant about personal struggles as an indie artist in today’s music landscape was met with a very objective perspective from my good friend, and someone who has been observing and supporting me for many years now. He challenged me to think beyond my self-limiting beliefs lingering around what I can and can’t afford, and what I can and can’t achieve as an artist. He argued that in some ways, I’ve almost been doing myself a disservice by cutting corners financially when it comes to my creative output instead of curating the best talent and crafting the highest caliber visuals I can find to promote the integrity of my artist brand. And by playing so many solo gigs at noisy bars and coffee shops instead of presenting a full band in amazing venues and putting on nothing less than unforgettable shows. And also by allowing my fear of the unknown to mislead my decisions instead of trusting that the world is a resourceful place and full of support thanks to the power of fearless will and intention.

He encouraged me to step outside of myself and take a good look. He said, “Be the artist you have become.”

“Wow, did you just make that one up?” I replied.

“I don’t know, maybe I did!” We both got a laugh at the accidental nature of such sage advice.

Be the artist you have become.

The words rattled and awakened me, so thanks for impromptu words of wisdom, my friend. You know who you are.

There are so many inspirational quotes that sound like they could be a close cousin to this one, but most of them speak to new beginnings. I love how this one encourages us to take a careful, objective look at who we’ve become. For me, it’s where self-awareness meets perseverance. To simply honor where you’ve come from, appreciate who you’ve become, and welcome tomorrow with open arms.

It’s striking how much this speaks to the core theme of my new album My Hero, The Enemy. From a production standpoint, I believe this is my finest work to date. The sonic quality is of such high caliber that it almost makes my other albums sound like demo recordings. The brilliant musicians and engineers I’ve had the opportunity to work with throughout the recording process have truly allowed me to “be the artist I have become,” and for that I am grateful.

From a songwriting standpoint, I wrote this album with the purest of intentions. Many of these songs feel like diary entries to me, and I wasn’t willing to compromise any artistic integrity in the songwriting or the production this time — not for radio, press, or industry’s sake. The results are staggering to me in comparison to some of my past efforts that aimed to please and often felt disingenuous. The choice was to simply be authentic. It took guts, but the results were profound — far exceeding my expectations, and uncompromising in creative integrity. It allowed me to be the artist I have become.

And looking at all the support I am surrounded with today, I realize that I have never gone without. I am fortunate to have grown up in a musical family who have championed me from the start, and I would not have the confidence or fierce determination I have learned without them. I am blessed to have a passionate community of supporters that allow me to continue along my musical journey.

The launch of my Patreon campaign marks a new venture. I have crowdfunded many campaigns over the years, but this one is the most vulnerable and terrifying of them all. It calls upon every fear and insecurity to cast my faith and livelihood into unknown territories of this magnitude. Even though the support has always been there before, I’m still facing fears along the way. They are the same resounding fears that have fueled all of my limiting beliefs, but I’m going to move forward and take the leap anyway and be the artist that I have become.

Whatever your story is, I hope you will honor where you’ve come from, appreciate who you’ve become, and welcome tomorrow with open arms. I hope you will be the artist you have become.

Here’s my mission

I want to change the dialogue on inner purpose. We all want a “life worth living for” before we die, so I think we need to start “living a life worth dying for” while we’re still alive. Too many people look back on their lives with heavy hearts full of regret when they could be living with radical inner purpose. So what are you dying to live for? Go ahead, get creative… Or click here for a little help from this handy creative action plan.

RIP (Radical Inner Purpose),

-Gregory Douglass

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