or, Johnny West is Not the Western Hero his Name Implies
Hi, my name is Derek Harrison. I am a musician. I recently created a piece of music called Empty Heart.
When I was finished, I listened to it, and I thought “Wow, I’m really proud of this. Wouldn’t it be swell if other people would listen to it?”
So I put the song up on Bandcamp, did a whole round of online promotion, and submitted it to the CBC Searchlight competition. Edit: I didn’t make it to the next round, but thanks for voting!
Now some people may take issue with this. There’s a taboo about creating art for others. The prevailing attitude is that it’s not “real” art if you care if other people like it.
Just read this excerpt from a recent blog post by Johnny West:
i don’t like competition in art. i don’t like contests. frankly, i think they’re stupid, and altogether pointless. i think a real artist is someone who is too busy creating art to care much about getting involved in these kinds of things.
There’s that “real artist” idea again. What the hell is a real artist? I don’t think there’s an answer to that question.
Someone once challenged me when I told them I am a musician. They said “Are you really a musician or do you just make music? Do you play shows and get paid?” I’m not necessarily condoning their viewpoint, but rather presenting an opposite to the above definition of “a real artist.” And I think it’s a valid position. After all, I cook most of the food I eat, and I think I’m pretty good at it. Does that make me a cook?
Making a Living
I am a musician. It’s a hard thing to be. I, like most of us, need to have a second job. I’m lucky enough to have a good one, but most musicians are forced to take minimum wage jobs outside of their field. The music industry is in depression. Bars don’t want to pay us. Half of the venues exist in some bizarro world where they expect the hired entertainment to pay them.
Most musicians are entrepreneurs, building a business from the ground up. Transferable skills are a major part of building that business. In my case, I am a songwriter. That is my specialty. But I do session work and tour with bands. Like in all industries, it takes a lot of investment, both monetary and personal, to start a business.
Music is both an art and a craft. I take pride in what I create and I think it has real value for others. CBC Searchlight is one way to share it. I am not going to win, but hopefully my song will reach more ears than I otherwise could have reached.
The artistry is vibrant in this competition. Competing in the same market as me are SwampWolf, who’s wildness rivals Johnny West’s, and Half Moon Run, probably the best new band I’ve heard in years, who’s birth I had the honour of witnessing, since my brother used to play drums for the founder of the band before he moved to Montreal and I unsuccessfully auditioned as their bassist shortly before they began touring the world (they still don’t have a bassist, so I don’t feel so bad). Half Moon Run has a solid chance of winning, and they really deserve it. Edit: neither of these artists made it to the next round either, unfortunately.
I first heard about the CBC Searchlight competition when they were searching for the “best indie music venue in Canada.” Say what you will about Phog Lounge in Windsor winning the competition, but all the top 20 became household names among independent touring musicians because of that contest.
It has its flaws, but it does some good and it does no harm. At a time when aspiring musicians are expected to PAY for exposure, we should be thankful when organizations offer a free promotional service like this.
The Tweet Version
Contrary to Johnny West, I think that a real artist is someone who does everything they can to turn their art into their job, so that they can spend their life doing what they love.