3 weeks ago I put my album onto the internet bit of the world. It made me really happy when lots of people listened to it. It also made me really happy that lots of really nice people paid money to have it even though I let them have it for free. What is more astounding is that people have bought it that aren’t even my friends but are people I have never met. Bandcamp helpfully sends you an e-mail every time someone buys it, and then you know who has got the thing you made. Its pretty amazing.
Ok so its great. But it is also weird. Making a thing that I feel completely happy with and that some other people like should be just great. But I feel maybe less confident than I did before about myself as a musician and a singer and songwriter as well as just generally a person. It is very easy to detach any meaning from nice words people say about you or your music. And that is what I have been thinking about a lot recently. What does it mean? What does it mean that I made something and people liked it. Is that any reflection on me as a person. Or is it more just a thing that has happened.
To help me think about this I did perhaps the most self-indulgent thing possible and went back and read some things I wrote about songwriting 2 and a half years ago. I like the thing I wrote about the tension between meaning and nonsense being crucial to songwriting. I think the same is true for the whole process of making music. It is both an incredibly meaningful experience and just complete and utter nonsense. The idea of people paying money to download music is nonsense, the idea that it could make me a confident, happy, functional person if enough people like the record is nonsense. But the fact that anyone would make time and effort and pay money to listen to what I have to done is meaningful. But the meaning isn’t located in me, it is in them.
2 and half years ago I wrote about a gap in my songs between the emotion that made them and the song that comes out of it. The gap is where I forget how I got from one bit to another and its what makes songwriting scary – because if you could remember how it worked then it would be easy. But it also wouldn’t be as good because that gap is there for everyone else. That’s where they put their meaning and their nonsense into the song and that’s what makes the song theirs.
Really what I am saying here is, to anyone reading this who has listened to me sing my songs ever, thank you so much. You have done something really ridiculous but really important to me. And I suppose the same is true for all of us whenever we take time to listen to or read or look at anything that someone has made. I really dislike the idea of art being a mystical hierarchical thing. I hate the idea that someone has “something special” or “a gift” which makes them a better person than anyone else. Those ideas are really pervasive and they seep into everything. Even into DIY culture which should be the last place you find any of that bullshit. Its those ideas that make me think making an album could make me a better person. Whereas what making an album does is make a document of the person I am at the time I am making it. And sure that can be useful and satisfying and maybe a little therapeutic. But its not going to fix things. But listening to other people’s music can certainly make you a better person. So can playing shows and putting on bands and eating salad and drinking less beer or drinking more beer and exercising and throwing a dinner party and moving your furniture around and getting a job at a charity and volunteering somewhere and reading books so that you are more politically aware and knitting. These are important and difficult things to remember for me. But I will try.