The Audacity of Asking For Help When You Need It Most
Adapting to the “Automatic Children”
Make way for the automatic children
Because we’ll fight, and we’ll fight
Until the death of it
With raging, semi-automatic reason
*Lyrics from “Every Evening After” by Gregory Douglass
Gregory Douglass, Category: Artist, Albums: Live from the Chapel, My Hero, The Enemy, Lucid, Battler, Up & Away…
I’ve always worn the word “indie” like a badge of honor. I’ve been a pioneer of the indie music movement throughout my entire career. At least that’s what many of my fans would say.
The truth is that I was indie by default. I really wanted a big fat record deal more than anything when I started out. I had graduated from a college preparatory school and skipped college altogether because I was hungry to hit the road and share my music with the world. I was gonna be a legendary rock star. Being indie was just temporary to get things rolling until I got “discovered.” I didn’t want to wait around, and I hadn’t the audacity to ask for anyone’s help.
For a while, being indie worked really well. I was making money, making friends, and making a name for myself. I was recording new albums faster than fans could keep up with, and I was touring like a madman.
I longtime fan approached me one night after a New York City show. Anytime I played in the city he was almost always in the audience, but we hadn’t really talked much before. I thanked him for coming to the show and inquired more about his life. He said he worked for EMI Records. I smirked and asked him how long he was planning on withholding that kind of information from me. He said he knew I was proud to be indie and respected that I didn’t need anyone’s help.
I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that was the message I was sending. It seemed that my indie-empowered default mode was actually deterring help from the people I needed it from the most.
I realized that if someone who works for a major record label thinks I’m doing just fine on my own, it’s going to be damn near impossible to ever get a record deal.
I continued to truck along independently in the advent of digital platforms like Spotify and Apple Music and watched my primary sources of income dwindle. I started to lose hope and motivation to persevere. Clearly, no one was coming to save the day. My chances of being discovered or signed to a big record label were becoming more improbable. My dreams of being a legendary rock star were numbered.
Then I got an email out of the blue from a prominent decision-maker at NPR. They wanted to feature my latest album Lucid on NPR’s Morning Edition during their 2011 “Music We Missed” segment. The name looked familiar so I consulted my database, and sure enough, the person emailing me was someone who had been pre-ordering my albums since 2005. He was a fan!
The interview aired on December 28, 2011. You can listen to it here if you’re curious. Fortunately, the interview was pre-recorded and edited down substantially because I have a way of rambling. My husband and I tuned in to hear it live and I listened objectively. My eyes filled with tears as I absorbed the integrity of my own story, and I beamed with gratitude and pride for the indie path I had chosen.
I realized that I had been asking for help all along and that my independent path was actually the heart of my career.
I had fans supporting me from the beginning, welcoming me into their homes for house concerts to help sustain my touring. They were buying my music at shows and pre-ordering every album I wanted to make — just as my fan at NPR did. It was the power of my own relationships that had literally kept me in business over the years.
Asking for help is the only way I know now. There’s dignity in asking for help when you begin to understand how mutually beneficial it can be.
I wouldn’t have been able to record and release new music without the help of fan support, and those fans wouldn’t have been able to benefit from my music. I wouldn’t have been featured on NPR without the help of a fan, and they wouldn’t have had such a good story to feature (if I do say so myself) ;) And I wouldn’t be able to sustain my creativity today without the help of my patrons over at Patreon who get monthly installments of what I’m creating in exchange for their monthly patronage.
Amanda Palmer’s take on asking for help is one of the more compelling I’ve seen. In her TED Talk “The art of asking,” she tells her story and examines the new and vital relationship between artist and fan. I highly recommend it.
In an increasingly crowded music landscape, it’s hard to stand out through the noise. It’s an automatic era, and digital content is freely shareable now. We can’t fight it — and we shouldn’t fight it because change and evolution are inevitable.
As Amanda Palmer would put it, we can’t make people pay for music, but we can let them.
In closing, “Automatic Children” is a song I wrote for my studio album My Hero, The Enemy. I just released a live version of that album called Live from the Chapel that was recorded and filmed live at The Chapel in San Francisco. I wrote this song about adapting to the new digital age of on-demand, automatic, and everything for free… Take a listen to the original version of the song or live version of the song if your curious.
Yours in music & creative wellness,
PS. I’ve got a whole riot of recorded music, videos, and articles to inspire you at GregoryDouglass.com.
PPS. Want to help me sustain all this creativity? Click here to become a Gregory Douglass patron.