So, What Are You Worth?
It's another one of those days when you pop onto your email, and see you've gotten mail from your old publisher.
Getting into the information they have sent requires your email, your password, and then the entry of a numerical code.
What, I ask, has my catalogue of songs, owned by Universal, done for the world? And what is it worth this time?
Well. A song of mine, "Girlfriend," was used in an Italian television show. And my current revenue?
I have made less. But the mini-blow feels like a mosquito bite. I might scratch a minute, but it's time to get distracted. If I don't, I will go down my list of grievances and rue the day I signed a contract and believed that anyone was going to work the catalogue I gave them.
I was naive, I guess. Truly how many songs in the world get much love? It might be a sadder affair for poets. One needs to write, but for whom? Your little lonely work is that tree someone said fell. I didn't hear it, but I will take their word for it.
If you are a creator, particularly a musician who writes, sings, records, performs, you know the perils of determining your worth based on how your creative work is received.
Of course there are those mountain-top moments when a performance is stellar, well-recorded, and reaction convinces you that your tunefulness, emotional risk and capable playing matter to someone.
You might have even made it to a playlist somewhere.
And who doesn't like to perform a gig that is ebullient, vibrant, communal, applauded. You have merged with the masses. you know who you are. You know what you did. All of the sacrifices have been well worth it.
Rodin, the sculptor, said something that has stuck with me. "Toujours travailler," he said. "Always be working on something." The cliched form of this might be "Don't rest on your laurels."
I remember my first meeting with a music attorney. I told him I was very prolific. Now he was very much the old school Scottish stoic, looked at me, and said, "So what? Who really cares about all of your songs?"
This was another sting, but he was right. And I have come to believe that for most songwriters, the success of one or two songs might be justification for a lifetime's investment in craft.
Whatever my life's work is worth is, at the end of it all, not up to me to say. What I think is deep, and moving and a must-have most of the time gets tossed into the bin.
The thing I made and threw away or discounted gets picked up.
We need EGO to go on, but, while this might be the gas, it's not the car.
I have recognized that what is worthwhile are the relationships I have formed within my craft. How my songs connect to other people's songs. Recognizing that I am in traffic, so to speak. I am one of many cars. So I can look around and see who is going in a direction I fancy. I can even get out of my own car and ride-share.
While the music industry, at the start, for me, made me feel "special" and "A Star," I am dialing that back. Now my sense of myself is as collaborator. I can take my skill set and work on other people's songs. I can bring my heart to them, with every instrument I play. I can engineer my own work, but I will get even better when I work for someone else.
Writing might be a chosen as lonely business, but music, the making of it, is not. Music is communal, shared, and it matters to find your tribe. Maybe there will be more than one tribe.
I am worth just as much as a listener, a fan, a supporter, as I am an Artist.
Sure, it is my business to run a studio. I can do this because I know things I have learned through sheer grit, tenacity, humility and sticking to it, through four deals,playing my arse off, through big losses, high moments.
The gain is this honest assessment. Every time I have tried to leave music, something happened to pull me back. That was always other people.
And this is the biggest creativity there is. To reinvent. To return. And to know you are in talented musical company. Support and love others in a genuine way. It is always returned.
And knowing this is worth the world. To me.