The "Why" of Being an Emerging Artist

It's been a while since I last posted on this Blog and I've taken this pause in my writing to think a good deal about the "why" of performance for emerging artists such as myself. I believe that I may have reached something of a "crossroad" in my "musical performance career", such as it is. Increasingly now, I go to open mikes to showcase my talent for the purpose of networking and getting paying gigs to perform. I think, just think, mind you, that I may be starting to have something of a break-through of sorts. Does this mean I am going to give up my "day job" and start touring throughout the country? I think not quite yet. But I think I'm finally reaching a point where that goal may not seem quite so unachievable that it is not worth contemplating.

Last week, I was the opening act for the Joe Davies Folk Festival at the Soule Homestead in Middleborough, Massachusetts. The day's artists included emerging artists such as myself as well as headliners like Amy Speace. Amy is one of my favorite touring artists and certainly one of the most hardworking that I've ever encountered. Just looking through her touring schedule on her web site can be exhausting; actually living it must be more so. But, nonetheless, she and Ellis Delaney are the artists that I use as a standard by which to "measure" my own progress. And that's a good thing. But I'm not like them just yet. Which raises the question of why go to the tiring physical exercise of performing as an artist. Why drive yourself so?

For my good friend and mentor, Ellis Delaney, the answer comes down to the personal decision to make a difference in the world, one song at a time. Indeed, she's gone to the effort of developing and committing to paper a literal "mission statement" for it. And I think she's on to something there. Why expend all the effort (and it is very considerable) to go from place to place, gig to gig, criss-crossing the country (and other countries as well) to perform? The question is one that I increasingly ask myself as I contemplate their lifestyle and mentally "try it on".

I have to believe that although it is tiring, it must also be addictively exhilarating. To see new places, new people, to make new friends, to reach new audiences with music that they've not heard before and "connect" with them is very exciting indeed! But is that really all there is to it? The visceral pleasure of an appreciative audience and nothing more? Or, in the words of David Wilcox's song, "Sex and Music": "Do you want them to 'come' when you sing?" 

As I have developed as a performing songwriter, while I really, really like it when people show their appreciation of my music and performance by applauding, I've received something more when I mingle with audience members afterwards and they tell me how and, more importantly for me, why they were moved or connected with one or more of my songs. Sometimes the stories that audience members have related to me about how I stirred a memory or an emotion that they thought they forgot (or even suppressed) have given me a better insight into the real importance of live music in people's lives. We performers are more than poets cobbling togther pretty words that occasionally rhyme; rather, we are, at our best, the provokers of memory in those that listen to us. The relaters of emotion that are common to all of us. We are the assurance to our audiences that they, as individuals, are not alone in an increasingly chaotic and sometimes unfair world. We write the anthems that people adopt like an indelible tattoo on their hearts. This, to me, is the answer to "why" be a performing songwriter. On to the next gig!

Food for thought.

Yours in DADGAD

Rick Gottlieb