Blog 1415: Ray Against The Machine

The Machine for getting my art “out there” is broken. It has been for a long, long time. How so? And what motivation is there to then make new art?

“It wasn’t the music. I’ve never lost my love of creating, and especially singing and creating music. It was more the whole machinery that goes with it…”PJ Harvey

I’m working on new stuff – and it ain’t easy. Not the inspiration part (I’m currently in the primordial part of my creative cycle: all Id, no filters yet). Not the feedback part (I’m surprisingly ok with it when folks aren’t into what I do – believe it or don’t). It’s the bit in-between: the “Machine”, a.k.a. the business of release, promotion, and attention-getting.

Why is the Machine a factor at this early, purely creative stage?

As I’ve blawged about previously, I have no interest in making art if it doesn’t connect with people – so the business “side” is actually a co-requisite of my art-making, one of the twin engines powering my momentum.

I have been told that, as an artist, it’s not my job to worry about the business side, and that my focus should be on making my art. There are three things wrong with that advice:

  1. It pre-supposes that there is someone else administering (effectively) to the business side.
  2. It implies that if you make good work, the rest will inevitably follow.
  3. It perhaps also indirectly condescends that I, as an artist, am only good for one thing: making art.

In an ideal world, those three ideas would be super.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been anyone comprehensively competent in the driver’s seat (and I include myself in the cast of those who have attempted to fill that role). One thing I’ve learned is that, more often than not, the deciding factors in an artist’s career are other people and opportunities whose appearance has little if anything to do with the quality of the art itself.

When a machine isn’t working properly, you troubleshoot: systematically go through all the points where breakdown can occur to isolate and fix the problem. From the most basic (“Is it switched on?”, “Is it plugged in?”) to the most complex (“Is it a fundamental component that is faulty and needs to be replaced?”).

So when it comes to my malfunctioning career machine, I’m not sure whether the problem is with my art and ideas, or that I’ve been unfortunate with people or opportunities, or if I’m simply a crappy judge of character who chooses loyalty over learning.

Chatting about this with others (artists as well as industry folks, such as promoters, managers, etc) has revealed some distressingly common experiences. We’ve all encountered too many infantile egos parading as “professionals”; unreliable, unstable, or incompetent jokers who are well-connected; characters with bewildering motives who bring their underdeveloped emotionality to bear in business decisions which affect the fates, careers, and lives of others.

And, speaking only for myself: my creativity is crippled by the prospect that whatever I create will have to filter through some of these characters before it has even the chance to reach a broader audience. Probably 90% of my “artist” time is actually spent trying to patch holes in a leaky admin boat – and, to stretch that analogy further into cliché, I am out of my depth.

I actually agree with those who tell me that my artist time should be spent being an artist. However, if I don’t at least try to attend to the admin stuff myself, then there’ll be less than no chance that my art will ever leave my bedroom. I’m no hobbyist – as I’ve said, I create to communicate. Every time I create something, I’m mindful that the publishing journey beyond it will involve a lot of leaky, patching, sinking, rough-water action. Unfortunately, none of that action has anything to do with being an artist or interacting with my audience. It drains time, energy and headspace I’d rather spend creating. Knowing that from the outset is overwhelming and demoralising. It makes me not want to create anything at all.

Make no mistake: this post is indulgent therapy. Talking about this privately, in varying degrees (from inside my head alone, to sharing with close friends, to babbling at strangers at parties), isn’t helping me to get past or over this. Hopefully, by publishing this, I can read it back, feel embarrassed by its boo-hoo factor, get some perspective, and above all finally get back to doing the one thing I’m supposed to be good for: making art.


Ray Mann | Soapbox
Still from music video ‘Soapbox 2.0‘ (2012)

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