The Importance of Ego In Creativity
Lessons from “The Lion Keeper”
The lion keeper is still asleep
From this bird’s eye
The lines we cross
The lion’s open mouth is calling you
*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 was writing songs, recording albums, and touring all over the country throughout my 20’s — and I was killing it.
1999–2009 was my indie heyday. It was the hight of the DIY movement of independent music and Ani DiFranco was our ringleader. Her career was like a beacon of light to so many indie artists who were foregoing record deals altogether and just doing it all themselves, on their own. We didn’t need anyone’s help back then.
I never use to worry about what I was getting paid at shows because I knew I’d always generate enough income from CD sales each night to make a profit. Yeah. That’s how much things changed.
I was on top of the world, and my path to fame and fortune felt inevitable. So I just kept on writing, recording, and touring — rinse and repeat.
Then the internet happened. More specifically, it happened to music. Soon enough, digital became the new music currency. First, it was Napster, then iTunes. $15 CD sales at my shows steadily dwindled and were replaced by $9.99 albums and 99 cents songs on iTunes. And then Spotify came along for one convenient low monthly fee in exchange for accessing anything and everything under the sun — offering a dismal $0.006 per stream to independent artists like me.
That’s right, Spotify only pays $0.006 per stream.
I use to make $200–500 per night on CD sales alone at shows. It would take me 25,000 streams of a song in order to make $150. That’s not sustainable income for any artist, which is why I now sustain my creative living through Patreon — but I digress…
The evolution of the music industry is one that no one saw coming — not even major record labels. And everyone has been trying to catch up and figure things out ever since. It’s a major blow to one’s ego when you are your own product and suddenly the world decides it doesn’t want to pay you for what you do anymore.
I’ve been dizzy from the reality of my circumstances ever since the turn of the digital tide. My loss of income from music sales has certainly put my ego in check, but it also killed my dreams in many ways. What have I been working so hard for? What am I suppose to do if I can’t make a living from music?
I met my husband at the beginning of all the transition. The closer we became, the less I wanted to be a road warrior. I was losing my motivation from all angles to keep chasing the dream. I wasn’t feeling that relentless desire to prove myself to the world. I just wanted to stay home and make dinner for my sweetheart.
Somewhere between dwindling income and burgeoning love, I became humbled by life.
I was questioning whether I was even in the music business for the right reasons. Of course, I loved to sing, perform, write, and record, but I had forgotten how to have fun somewhere along the way. It had become merely a game that I needed to win at — but I was loosing.
I lost sight of how prolific I had been and how many people’s lives I had touched through my music. I began to look back at all that I had accomplished and all the support I had received — and continue to receive — thinking there must be other reasons for all the change that was happening.
My actions were driven by ego more than by the love of what I was doing.
I was burned out, so I took a hiatus from touring like a road warrior and focused on my well being for a while. I wanted to learn how to take better care of myself and figure out how to get back to the love of creating music again. But I was struggling to create. I was writing new songs, but they weren’t me.
I was gaining my self-respect, but I was losing my creative edge.
Then I realized something surprising. I was actively practicing how to be more in control of my life and keep my ego in check — like a lion keeper watching over his caged lion.
I was actively taming my ego and therefore inadvertently taming my creative edge along with it.
The very definition of ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. My creative self-esteem and self-importance were at an all-time low, so something had to change.
I kept on writing with that in mind. I freed the proverbial beast from its cage each time I attempted a new song idea and watched as my creative edge returned for a serious dose of honesty and creative integrity. The majority of songs from My Hero, The Enemy were written during that time.
If you ever find your ego getting carried away, calling the shots in ways that aren’t serving you in your life, just nudge it gently back to your creative realm where it belongs.
Nobody loves Kanye for his ego. Nobody. But he’s on top of the world because he is king of his creative domain. What would Kanye’s music even be like if he didn’t show up to his craft without the confidence and certainty he exudes in his songs? Can you imagine the music of a humble Kanye? It wouldn’t translate.
Let me be clear — this is not an homage to egomaniacs. It’s more of a requiem for the creative hero’s who understood how to harness their ego and channel it through their creativity to help empower the world.
Look at artists like Bono (U2) and David Bowie. They changed the world with their music. They created and performed with the kind of fierce conviction that attracts listeners in droves. Yet they sustain some of the most humble reputations in the industry outside of their craft. Bowie’s shy demeanor and genuine gratitude was a stark contrast to his creation of the legendary Ziggy Stardust who rocked us into the stratosphere to meet a “star man waiting in the sky.” Bono’s philanthropy and habitual stage fright is a far cry from the fearless rock star who takes the stage night after night.
Where is ego showing up in your life? Is it championing your creativity? Is it holding your creativity back because you don’t ever want to come across like Kanye? Is it larger than life, reeking havoc in your health and burning bridges left and right?
Let ego work for you instead of against you. Take a lesson from the lion keeper analogy and learn to tame the beast when it’s not serving you or serving others. But when it’s time to create — unleash the beast!
In closing, “The Lion Keeper” 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 the importance of ego and the complacency of creativity without it… 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.