There’s a story from the filming of “Marathon Man” that I love and often repeat (I hope it’s actually true and not just a cinematic urban legend). It seems that Dustin Hoffman was in the process of trying any method acting trick he could come up with to get inside his character. He stayed up for three nights straight, didn’t shave, worked himself into a slovenly stupor and came onto the set bemoaning to Laurence Olivier, “I just don’t get it. I’ve tried everything and I just can’t get inside this character.” Sir Larry gave Hoffman a withering look and said, “Why don’t you try acting?”
This is often the way I feel when musicians ask too many questions about how to make it in the music business. Or when fellow musicians talk a little too much about “the biz.” Hey, these things are important. I’m ever grateful to my industrious peers, my mentors who have taught me ways to survive as an independent musician and I’ve tried to be as free with my advice for those who come to me for clues and suggestions. It’s enough for Gloria Gaynor to swear that she will survive-she had a hit record. For those of us who have slalomed through the independent scene for years and decades it’s a little trickier. You need clues. And tricks. And tenacity.
But at the end of the day you have to love writing songs. And you have to love making records. And you have to especially love playing shows and touring. And you have to love doing all of those things for their own sake. The biggest issue when writing a song or making a record shouldn’t be “what will my fans think?” or “will it get on the radio?” or “will Byron Coley like it” (okay, this used to trouble me in 1982) but rather “Do I like it? Am I getting off on this song, this album, this gig?” You should be able to honestly feel that the record you just made would be your favorite record of the year or that the gig you just finished was the epitome of your own idea of what a great gig should be.
Amuse yourself. Indulge yourself (personally, I always thought that being “self-indulgent” is what being a great musician is all about). Take chances. Do something crazy and precocious and surprising. What’s the worst that can happen? You might suck. And, really, sucking is the best way to find your way to greatness. You have to be willing to fall on your face in order to hit the heights that all of your heroes have hit over the years. Nobody inspires awe with competency or proficiency or “getting the job done.” The great ones became great because they did something that nobody else would dare to do-that is until the great ones did what they did and then everybody wanted to do what they had just done. Got that?
So, the next time you’re wondering how to write a hit song or make a hit record or make your fans happy or get better reviews than your last album you might just want to consider what Laurence Olivier might have said to you: “Why don’t you just try making music?”
Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate)
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. I can write about just about anything. Do you need a copywriter, or someone to help with your PR? I can write reviews, do features and interviews, or help promote your products. Music, contemporary art, books, and men’s fashion are my areas of expertise, but I can also write about food, films, festivals, politics, news. I can do your technical writing. I can edit your undergraduate papers and coach you on your essays.
I can also stuff envelopes, do proofreading, editing, copying, research, grant-writing, etc. for your art gallery, publication, small press, or business. I can make coffee in your coffee shop or sell products in your boutique. I will work in your stockroom or warehouse. You will be amazed that you ever got along without me.
Saelan happens to be one of the most dependable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Polite, knowledgeable, gregarious, and a thoughtful conversationalist…hiring this man would seriously be the best thing you could do for yourself. A rare true class act, Toronto. Fact.
A+++ would hire again!