Beyond the "me, me, me", there is something wonderfully fulfilling about making a contribution to the world.
I surround myself with like-minded people who also foster this same philosophy. I'm very blessed to have a voluntary team of over thirty songwriters and liek-minded individuals who make up the Songsalive! team, running our non-profit showcases and workshops around the world. I didn't push them to volunteer. They have always contacted me over the years and be part of our altruistic endeavor. Songsalive! runs on the principle that whoever contributes to it, whether that is by the team or the members who donate as low as $30 a year, will all receive invaluable gifts in return. These gifts can only be measured by the individual. It might be something like a cool promotion, or opportunity to perform, or a new resource, workshop or article that helped their education, or a lead to pitch their song to someone looking for songs. The gifts are in abundance but it really all depends on whether the individual "sees" them, and appreciates them for what they are.
There is only one reason why we do anything in all, and that is to express, experience and become our truest selves. This self-defining process is what I call "creativity" in its purest form, and it is ongoing, every day, every moment. As we express and experience, we are contributing to others' development and in turn touching our own lives. Touching your own life is the highest of it all.
Some people contribute their energies to non-profits, voluntary organizations and groups, even bands (as musicians) and then complain about it later. They give of themselves and then swiftly retract it thinking that their energy is not appreciated or money not well spent. Or they feel hard done by because they find out the pay wasn't good, or they didn't get a certain exposure they expected. This happens a lot with artists who perform at a show or festival for free and spend time and money to be involved, but then feel jaded when post-event they don't feel they got anything out of it. I've had songwriters complain that they didn't get a record deal or get signed some way from a CD compilation we've produced with their song on it. They paid some low-cost amount (that is way cheaper tan if they release the song on their own cd) and did nothing else expect the whole world to land on their feet offering them the moon. They didn't see how much effort was put into the project, how much it was promoted and distributed and the value of the exposure. Publicists and music magazines get the same criticism. Artists often think that if they pay for an Ad or pay for PR services, that they expect to be signed or get a full house at their next gig.
But you can't expect others to make it happen for you like this. Sure, exposure in all these forms is great. But they are merely tools to add to your existing momentum. Get exposed and promoted in every which way you can, but don't complain if those resources don't provide you with fame or fortune. You never know, maybe your song sucked! Or the image wasn't to people's taste? All these can contribute to it.
But the real reason is that everyone has their own story in life. Just because you put your stuff out there, doesn't mean everyone is going to hop to it and listen to you, call you, come see your show. Everyone has their own agenda and sometimes circumstances play a factor, like the weather, current economy, being unknown in a certain region, not enough of a story about you that they instantly like you. It takes time to develop a buzz. If you're doing it all on a budget it can take years. That's ok. Because guess what? You are an artist for life. You have all the time in the world. There is no end-date here. (Only in your minds). Here's another quick statement: it doesn't matter how old you are? "What!" I hear you say? That's right. In this current music business, you can be any age you want. It's all about the market you promote to. That's all. But this is for another time to delve into.
For now, be mindful that we get a lot out of everything we do and give in life. It's all based on perspective. Plus, it's opportunistic to be patient. For what may look like a bad decision may, in the end, be the best thing you've ever done for your career, given time.
If you have expectations undermining your initial voluntary contribution, it will totally backfire on you.
Here's an example of how expectations ruin what really is a wonderful experience and opportunity.
One weekend I asked my band mates in L.A to drive down to San Diego to play a small acoustic show in a female gay bar. Firstly, my band mates (guys) were totally turned off to a) perform in a gay bar (not being phobic or anything, they just like the Sunset strip rock-out atmosphere)
b) driving the long distance
c) not getting paid much
d) not being able to amp up. Acoustic was the last thing they wanted to do.
I urged them to do it because I felt it would be great for our exposure, a new experience in a brand new market, and we could also try some cool stage ideas. I asked my bass player to play an upright bass (those huge things that are hard to lug but sound amazing), I played keyboards and my guitarist was on acoustic guitar. We did the gig and the place was full with people who had never heard me but were becoming fans there and then. People signed the mailing list and we sold CDs. We even were treated to a meal.
The following day, both my band mates resigned from my band. I was shocked. I didn't understand. But they said that doing such a gig was the final straw of playing in places where "no one cared, the venues didn't pay and the sound was terrible." I told them that I cared, and that, yes, the people cared. They may not have been so visible about it to them. That didn't go down too well. I mean, here they were playing with me often for free, under my name (not a band name) and I guess they felt their contribution was not serving them enough. I did understand that they weren't "getting" how the whole gilli moon experience was in their favor. Maybe they were looking for some return on their energy investment that I hadn't delivered. I didn't understand.
You see, I believe that if we do anything in life we do it because it's for our own self-growth and for who we are and who we want to become. I don't ask for favors from anyone. If I contribute my time for someone, I'm not sitting there waiting for a return, or expecting some result that might never happen. I do it "because". I do it as an experience I need to do, and an expression I need to make, for my life.
I saw such immense value from doing that San Diego gig. I believe in building one fan at a time. So if only one person was in the room, who signed my mailing list, then I know they will spread the word to two others, who will spread to four, then eight and all of a sudden I've reached a group of people I'd never reach before. But in fact this gig was packed. They loved what we did. We were able to experiment with new sounds and instrumentation on stage. Even that in itself is what artistry is all about right? Who cares about the business side and the venues; isn't writing songs and performing all about that expression first? Aren't we as musicians supposed to enjoy the creative pursuit in performance and experiment? If we don't have joy in THAT what's the use of even doing anything else?
Doing that gig has not only brought these small but immeasurable experiences to me, but on that night I met a journalist who then reviewed my album, which then spread the word up the North coast and over to Arizona, which opened up whole new playing fields to perform in. The domino effect is big.
These days I have one strict rule about playing in my band. Only one. Play with me because you love creating and performing. If a musician comes into it with a hidden agenda of some notions of fame, fortune or anything business like, then they are out. Los Angeles is a tough town and the reason why people get jaded here is because they bring their career expectations to their music playing. If a gig doesn't go right, and 'such and such' isn't in the audience to see them play, or they didn't get paid, or the PA sucked, or there was only 5 people in the room, most musicians complain and complain until eventually they lose the desire to perform at all.
But if you go into the performing circuit hanging on to your initial passion for the art form, and don't expect ANYTHING at all, but just create your art and your circle of influence, then not only will you ENJOY the performance, but, ironically, the opportunities will actually come flying at you... because you least expect them. This is a universal law.
Everything that goes around comes around, and what you do for another, you do for yourself. Simple as that.
Go in to it with joy, and come out with more joy.