Saturday, June 20, 2009

Artist or Fraud?

During the early days of my career (which i identify as being during my early 20's), i was just starting to find the courage to label myself a composer. This was a huge step for me psychologically because although i was working as a professional musician, writing music for film and dance projects and performing regularly, i lived in this fear than sooner-or-later i was going to be caught-out as a fraud!

It's a big word, FRAUD. It has all kinds of connotations with it, and the whole concept has a dirty vibe to it. That's what i felt. Like my dirty secret would eventually get out, and I'd be exposed as nothing more than a pretender, a fake, a low-life wanna-be. Pretty intense, hey. Yet people were paying me good money to write and perform music, i was getting great reviews, the projects i was working on received world-wide acclaim, there were awards and was this possible if i was faking it?

So intense were my feelings, that i began to ask a few close artist friends whom i had the greatest creative respect for, "do you ever feel like you're a fake?". Unexpectedly they ALL said yes, each one of them reacting to the question with a sense of relief that they could finally talk about it. I discovered that not only was i not alone in my own feelings, but that this mindset was prevalent in creative vocations. There is an unspoken fear that eventually the artist will be sprung, and they would be forced back to the depths where they belong. Most surprising of all was my discovery that the more talented the artist, the deeper those feelings appeared to run.

Begs the question "why", doesn't it. Well, i can only answer this by drawing from what others have shared with me, and through my own experiences. So here's my theory...

"Talented" artists (we'll leave the discussion of what talent is for another time), often start out in a less traditional way. For example, I'm a self-taught musician, only taking lessons in music to sharpen up my skills and perceptions of my art form as a young adult. This leaves the door wide open to feel less validated and uncredited. Also, music to me comes so naturally...practically effortless. It's so enjoyable, it feels like there is no work involved in it, because most people class work as being something that one has to strive over and struggle with. Music also exposes a passion in me, one that is self-perpetuating...the more music I'm making, the more music i feel inspired to make. Plus, making music kinda gives me a high. All in all, it's such an enjoyable and easy process, fun and passion-invoking, that i feel like i must be cheating somehow.

I remember feeling this way when i used to improvise song arrangements on the piano as a kid to pop songs. I'd listen to a song a few times, and that was all I'd need. My friends would often need a few weeks working on it, but i seemed to already know it. I'd also just start singing harmonies to songs i barely knew...and knew no one else who could do that. i must have been cheating. I felt like i was, because i seemed to already know the answers. It makes perfect logical sense, except that of course there was no cheating involved, and no fraud...there was no deception.

It's about time that we as a society accepted that work doesn't need to be soul-destroying in order for it to be valid. We don't need to hate our jobs, our boss, and ourselves in order to show we work hard, and only then deserve some kind of return. And what is that term "working hard" all about anyway? Isn't "working well" a better description? Surely being effective is better than being hard. And if something comes naturally, isn't that a good thing? So many fantastic artists i have seen don't market themselves, believing their work can only be a hobby because it's something they love to do. DOH??!!

If reading this has struck a truth in you, then chances are that you have something you do that comes naturally and easily to you. It's called talent, not fraud. It's real, and humanity need you to share it, not keep it locked up in your closet. If you need to share how you feel, let it out now, don't wait 'til you're on your death-bed with a suitcase full of regrets. It's perfectly natural to feel this way, but don't let it ruin your journey.

Embrace your potential.
Express yourself.
Expose that which comes easy...because for so many other people, what you do takes hard work.
Your natural abilities are more valuable than any certificate you could ever get in your life...EVER!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fear & Excitement: same?

Performers, like myself, spend a lot of time in potentially nervous situations. Standing in front of a crowd who hang on everything you deliver is pretty intense, and in the studio you have an extremely short time slot to come up with some kind of magical essence that will move people. Those who perceive this as a positive experience can do it over and over again. Those who see it negatively will most likely crash and burn (as many creative people do). The pressure can be immense, but there is one simple thing that can make all the difference to anyone who finds themselves in a nervous situation...the perception of fear and excitement.

Your heart races, you feel butterflies flapping wildly in your gut, your breathing intensifies, you feel a sense of heightened sensitivity as your eyes widen and you limbs quiver with anticipation. Fear or excitement? It's both. The only difference between fear and excitement is the way you think about it.

Teaching singers to deal with nervousness is something i really enjoy, because i like a good mind challenge. Most of the things that get in our way are to do with how we look at things, ourselves, and situations, and there's a real sense of satisfaction when a performer can break through a hurdle having met the challenge head-on...literally. So lets look at the example of 2 singers waiting for an audition.

Sally is nervous. That's what she's been telling herself all day ("God, I'm sooo nervous. I wish i wasn't nervous. I can't handle this nervousness!"). She sits in the waiting area to be called, wringing her hands, trying to breath in and out like her mum used to tell her before the school play would start as a kid). She's is trying to relax, tries to distract herself from even thinking about her cold hands and her body's shaking by disengaging from the whole idea. "Don't think about it", she tells herself. "Think about other things". She withdraws within herself in an attempt to escape.

Jen is also waiting to be called in. She's been bubbling over most of the day. She was so excited this morning that she went for a short run before she got ready, just to settle herself. She's been thinking about the audition all day, humming out her songs to herself, playing it over in her mind as her butterflies flutter away in her stomach, but she's been telling herself "I'm soooooo excited! This is going to be so great. I'm so lucky to be here!". She didn't believe herself at first, tempted to called it "nerves", but she resisted. In the waiting area she feels the excitement level increasing. She paces the floor, bouncing on the spot every now and then to discharge her adrenaline, and keeps herself focused an in a positive state of mind. Her body is doing the same things that Sally's is, but Jen keeps moving and keeps up her positive mind speak.

The two have totally different experiences with their audition. Sally has spent so much of her time trying to distance herself from thinking about the audition, that she appears disinterested in it. She has been trying to keep her body so still by attempting to relax, that as soon as she goes to sing, her cells fire up from the build-up of chemicals and she loses vocal control. She gets really down on herself and has given up before she's even half-way through. She leaves in tears, gutted by another sense of failure.

Jan bounds in to the room, and her energy is immediately obvious. She's been releasing her adrenaline all day, so she maintains a lot of vocal control. She brings to her audition a sense of excitement and passion, and though she makes mistakes, she keeps positive and moves on, so well in fact that some of the panel don't even notice her errors. She leaves with a feeling of success.

The flight-or-fight response is our body's way of preparing us for engagement. Whether you call it excitement or nervousness, it's the same physical thing. Chemicals get released into our cells to prepare them with optimum power and strength, and are there to save your life. One of the mistakes people make when they have these feelings is to try and calm them down, but our body is geared up for battle, not for meditation.

If you focus instead on releasing the pressure physically (jump up and down, run around the block, etc), and tell yourself over and over how excited you are (even if at first you don't believe it), you can make a huge difference to your experience. You can then learn to USE that amazing zing and turn it into an opportunity to deliver in a way you can't when you're in your comfort zone. Harnessing this energy instead of denying it can turn a good delivery into something quite remarkable.

Are fear and excitement the same? Try it out for yourself, and you be the judge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cup Half Full

How i see it, there are 2 ways of looking at things. Either they suck, or they're good. And it's a choice you make, because things don't MAKE you unhappy, you CHOOSE to feel that way. Either you see things as a cup-half-full or a cup-half-empty.

It's not about your nature either. You can teach yourself how to view everything with a positive spin, even if you've been a pessimist all your life. You can teach yourself to tell yourself that it isn't as bad as it could be, it could always be worse, and to take whatever comes as an opportunity to learn, grow, become stronger, teach someone else, etc...

Let's face it, life is a gift. You were lucky to have gotten this far, and millions haven't. You can make the most of it, or wallow away in despair and give up. You can whinge and whine and make yourself feel even worse, or you can believe in the future and turn your situation around.

The cup is filled to same level, no matter how you perceive it, but i can tell you that if it's half full, you'll take great delight in rising to the challenge and turning any weakness into a strength.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are We There Yet?

People often focus on the destination.
Nothing wrong with that. heading towards a goal helps us to achieve them, it motivates us...keeps us on track.
So what about the journey? What happens when the ONLY thing one focuses on is the destination?

Let's look at the example of the road-trip. You've put a big red dot on the destination, and all roads lead there. You calculate an estimate of the time it will take to get there, gather the means by which you can travel there, and work out a plan to implement the journey.

Things start out fine. That destination is all that you can think about, but it's a long trip, and keeping your eyes glued straight ahead has meant you didn't see some very cool scenery soon after you started. Oh, well. The sooner you can get there, the better, so cool views aren't really relevant anyway. The next day you set out on the second leg of the journey, and work out that if you don't make that lunchtime pit-stop, you just might shave half-an-hour off your journey. The pit-stop would have been great, because you could have relaxed, perhaps made a new friend, or even been part of some kind of great story, but your focus is all on the end result.

This goes on for another week before you finally arrive. But you've arrived worn-out, bitter about your crap journey, tired because of no down-time, frustrated with the little things like roadworks which got in your way, and you just feel like shit. Following your recovery, you begin to feel a bit jaded, because you poured so much energy and effort and frustration into getting here, and everyone seems oblivious to your efforts. This place was such a castle-in-the-sky in your mind, but in reality it's just another place...another starting point.

Your friend makes the same trip, and is excited about her destination, but she takes her time, meets people and sees places along the way. She takes it easy on the road and arrives with a myriad of stories about her trip, laughs about how long it took (twice as long as you), and takes a little time to reflect before happily exploring this new place.

Focusing on the end result only might get you there faster, but how much will you miss along the way? Is it worth losing your happiness over? Might you be so headstrong about the destination that you miss other opportunities? And if your destination itself is a state of happiness, wouldn't it be easier to simply enjoy life's journey?

Goals are great, and there's nothing like the feeling of achieving them, but if the journey sux, there's not much chance that you'll truly be able to indulge in the joy of arriving there. And once you get there, there's another goal ahead....or is that a journey? :)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trading Places

Switching out of your own perspective and sliding into someone else's shoes can be a very healthy thing to do. Whether you trade your perspective with your fans, fellow artists, or someone you are having a robust debate with, it's helpful from all sides if you can play the role of empath. After all most of us are seeking to fulfil our needs, and often, whether by chance or planning, WE suddenly arrive in a position to fulfill those needs.

Fans may want inspiration from us to use in their own lives. They might hope for contact, understanding, or simply acknowledgement. The same can be said for most of the people who we have contact with. It's human nature to want confirmation that we exist, that there is meaning in our existence, and that we have a role to play within our own lives.

Even in a heated argument, each side may in fact be more needful of acknowledgement than being told they are right. Passionate exchange is as much about the exploration of ourselves as it is about being validated. It's common for us to say things and take strong positions on topics which we hadn't really thought-out before, because oftentimes it's the argument itself which helps us dig deep and discover for ourselves how we feel and what we believe. It's not all that difficult to acknowledge someone without sacrificing your own view on the matter, simply through the act of stepping into their shoes and trying to see things from their perspective.

For the artist, exploring a work from the viewer's or listener's perspective can help us step back from our work. This is very important on the business end of the Arts, being paid to accomplish a specific task. This doesn't mean "selling out" or jeopardising the creative integrity of a work, but merely offers an opportunity to explore other possibilities. Another person will NEVER see the creative work in the same way as the artist.

Try it. You might be surprised how interesting it can be :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Big Squeeze

If you're not a creative artist, it's difficult to imagine being one.

And if you are one, your perspective on what you do can easily be clouded by which particular aspect of your work you are battling with...because let's face it, sometimes being creative can feel like a downright curse.

It's no coincidence that artists throughout history have been portrayed as eccentric. Strange behaviour and unusual traits come with the territory. And it's not that creative people are necessary lazy, obnoxious or's often more to do with their own inward struggle in actually producing those masterpieces for regular people to say "oh, isn't that nice".

You see the creative mind is a fragile mind. It lives somewhere between normality and insanity, ever flirting with the possibility of going over the edge. Geniuses are often forgiven for this, but not so the humble unknown creative. Musicians are sometimes idolised for it, but alas this only leads to their downfall.

There's no doubt that the ability to create something from a complete nothing is an amazing thing, and i can say from experience that the rapturous moments of creativity seem to suffocate the memories of slaving and heartache, frustration and insanity. It's kind of like having a baby, where the pain of the birth is soon forgotten in the bliss of the child.

But creating is hard work. The mind, the heart, and often the soul must visit places unimaginable and then attempt to create some kind of echo in the real world, like pulling a reality through some kind of portal. Sometimes it seems to happen spontaneously...effortlessly, and at other times it feels impossible. The emotional roller coaster ride can make a work as painful as attempting to squeeze an elephant through the eye of a needle.And of course then one must also juggle the real world...raising a family, friends, sometimes other work...

And artistic people understand that they're often misunderstood. They've usually felt it all their lives. For some it becomes the thorn in their side, ever tormenting. For others it's just another aspect to their uniqueness, another thing that disconnects them from a normal life. It can fuel a passionate rage which can inspire a myriad of possibilities as easily as it can quash the very essence of the creative mind.

There are so many ingredients which need to come together in order to breathe life into a new work. Some of it can be serendipitous, and some need time, thought, passion, and integrity. Some arrive on your doorstep, and some take you on a long and tiring hunt...hunts which can take a lifetime to complete.

If you're not a creative artist, it's difficult to imagine being one.