I often find it hilarious when I bump into relatives or old classmates that hear about my musical ventures. The exchange usually ends up with them commenting that I’m rich as hell or that I probably have a condo next door to Russell Simmons sharing vegan recipes. I usually offer one of those forced uncomfortable smiles and say to myself, “If only you can see my bank account.”
There’s nothing more disheartening than checking your bank account online thinking you have a certain amount of money finding out that you have less. A hell of a lot less. This is what happened to me as I planned for some promotional shows in support of my new EP Maple St. Sessions, with Denz, recently released on R2 records.
Immediately you begin to realise that people’s romanticised summary of touring is purely fictional; the shows with groupies lined up ready for you to tattoo a mammary, the loads of people ready to purchase your new CD and let’s not forget the five-star hotel room.
The reality is, for an independent artist these things rarely happen. Usually the shows have more guys than women (with them trying to sell you their own shit at your show), there’s usually a larger line for the bathrooms than for people to greet you and the five-star hotels usually end up being a friend’s futon or air mattress.
So, why do we do it? I can’t answer for anyone else, but I had to fight to find some answers.
I remember watching the trailer to this Bill Withers documentary titled Still Bill, and nearly being moved to tears. There’s a quote in particular where Bill confesses, “It’s okay to head out to wonderful, but before you get to wonderful you have to go through alright….when you get there take a look around, get used to it, cause it could be as good as it gets.”
In understanding that, I had an epiphany: We do this because we love it. I realise as an indie artist, if you’re looking for a quick buck, this isn’t the way to go. I mean, you could get the money quickly if you let crack rocks to finance the operation, but what about the regular person that is trying to do things the right way? It’s an uphill battle.
The best way to look at the music is to treat it like a business. The average business takes about 3 to 5 years to show hopes of survival. So, there’s going to be years of investing, years where you’re losing money and years where breaking even is something to celebrate.
The only issue is that Hip Hop culture can make you doubt yourself. There’s no loyalty and even less respect for architects that helped build the culture. If Led Zeppelin decided to put together a new album, they would have the front page of Rolling Stone. If Afrika Bambaataa put out a new record, they’d be lucky to get a blurb at your favorite rap blogger’s site.
So, with all of those things that are bubbling against me, why do I continue to do it?
It’s because I love being on the stage. I love people giving me dap after a perform. After I finished a stint of three shows in two days in Atlanta including an event where I met Dilla’s mother, I realised why I do this. The event was called Dilla Day in the A, where people gathered to help raise money and awareness for lupus research, and was filled with people (like me) rhyming on Dilla’s beats.
This is the soundtrack to my youth. The sounds that made me fall in love with this culture. So, despite my account’s negative balance or possibly because of it, I listen to the music with new ears. There’s a haunting beauty to struggle and it’s something that keeps you grounded. Using your passion to express the passions, pains and joys of your life and the struggle sustains hope for better.
Basically, if there’s no Grammys in the future or mansions in my life’s forecast, to be able to make this music will have me content. I guess I’ll be alright.