You Have One New Follower
Second to None? Nah, this was meant to be fun
I’m just trying to get them heads nodding in the front
Enough with the jogging, you can’t expect me to run
And it moves me to awe seeing what I’ve yet to become....
Doc Wattson "Second To None" off the Lost Tapes mixtape
I have a complicated relationship with audiences.
In general, the creation of music is a very private act.
I recently shared with a friend some music that was in the very rough stages of completion. I had just tracked out a few vocal ideas, the track was unmixed, but this particular friend is also a musician and was interested in the creative process.
I used to hate sharing these rough versions of songs, but in this context I was happy to share my thoughts on how I got even to that point and what needed to happen from there for me to be happy sharing the song to the public more broadly.
But then I thought more broadly about how I share my music. Or how I don’t share my music.
Because the sharing part was never the point.
I began creating again a few years ago strictly for therapeutic reasons. I had to create something, and fast. I hadn’t in years, and when you feel those long stretches of writer’s block you start to question whether you just lost it. Whether you already created your best work. Wondering at what point you can even credibly call yourself an artist any more. (Note: I write a lot about this in earlier blogs so suffice it to say the topic of music therapy and imposter syndrome deserve more attention than I will give it this week)
I sometimes refer to creativity as a spark, but it’s not that simple.
Creativity is more like a hearth.
The hearth is a central part of the home, and a critical component to a healthy life. A spark can ignite a fire, but as we all know fire isn’t an inherently creative force. In fact, it’s the opposite. The hearth contains that force and transforms it into creative energy by providing the heat to unlock nutrients in certain foods or add wonderful flavor and color to other foods.
I like the hearth analogy because it’s warm, it’s inviting. It’s comforting. It evokes the feeling that the cook intends.
I also like it because, like creativity, it’s a tangibly human construct. The key word is construct.
One of the biggest mistakes I made in my psychic health journey is assuming that creativity is some unattainable, ephemeral thing that you get or lose.
Creativity isn’t just the ingredients that go into the kitchen or the bites of food that go into people’s mouths. It’s how the hearth is built. The cleanliness and orderliness of the space. The tools you have at your disposal.
Creativity is the process that converts raw material to finished product. It’s the chef’s discernment of which ingredients to select, to exactly how hot the fire should be, to exactly how the finished food should look on the plate (down to how the plate matches the cloth color, or the sconce color, if you’re REALLY into it).
This process exists in kitchens, restaurants, art studios, on manufacturing floors, on tech platforms, and in all other creative sandboxes. It can be structured. It can be taught and learned. The processes are usually fairly idiosyncratic (and often proprietarily so).
It would be silly to say that I wasn’t being creative in the ten years I wasn’t writing or making music. That I “lost my spark”.
It feels more accurate to characterize it as repurposing my hearth.
I was using my creative energy to grow my career, to be a better husband, to navigate homeownership. The hearth has been abuzz with activity continuously, but in all the fuss of keeping those big pots simmering, I put my writing into a pot that I left on the back burner.
When that pot cools, when the other pots get so wild you can’t even focus on one without the other few bubbling over, when you get spoiled ingredients, when you smell something burning, when the pilot light blows out in a crazy wind, when you don’t tend the fire pit and the creosote fumes add bitterness to your food… (Yes, this all fits in the analogy of creativity, and mental crises that manifest from an improperly addressed mental health issue.)
I finally realized the cost of keeping that pot off the fire. And so I’m making room for it regularly.
It is, predictably, as nourishing as I expected. Not just to myself, but to others.
Talking about kitchens and restaurants without talking about customers would be a little ridiculous.
So if I look at creativity like a hearth, then the function in which I would share my creativity is by serving from this hearth.
I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in food service before but there are frankly unimaginable differences between cooking for a small family or yourself and cooking for 100 people, or 10,000 people.
It’d be fair to describe my serving capacity as ‘dinner party’ (and I can charm the fuck out of a small party). I dramatically prefer making music that only one or two people will LOVE vs. music a bunch of people just like.
The other term for this is “starving artist”.
By the way, ccaling your distribution operation is easier than ever. No longer do I have to sit on 37 of the minimum run of 50 CDs you have to order (although Chris, I’m sorry I can’t order JUST ONE for you my dude). Now the music can blast out to the world and bounce around forever.
But my music isn’t for everyone at all times… That’s totally ok.
I average about 1 new follower per month, organically. That’s totally ok.
That one new follower probably came across my music through a conversation I had with them about something else. Or they stumbled across a random record review from a blog they were catching up on. (I appreciate you all!) But I’m not courting you, per se. Because my hearth isn’t really scaled to serve massive audiences.
And I’m not saying it’s because I’m some Alinea or Next style operation that is going to cost you a month’s mortgage and somehow be worth it.
I’m more like one of those Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives spots.
It’d be great to get the exposure, but I would be overwhelmed by the amount of additional work I would have to put in to feel like I’m adequately engaging with each new customer.
It reminds me of when I worked at Big Ray’s, and I convinced the paper to do a feature story on my dad. It’s not every day you can tell the story of the only black-owned restaurant in a 40-mile radius serving up gourmet food way ahead of its time (in 2005 BBQ wasn’t widely recognized gourmet cuisine and people’s idea of ‘good ribs’ where my dad opened up shop involved foil baking and sauces), and it was a free way of advertising.
At the time our doors were pretty close to closing, with bills piling and our small customer base stagnating.
The weekend the feature story dropped our business quadrupled. That feature story sustained us well into that summer and arguably helped my dad and I see a world where his business succeeded (it ultimately did not, but that’s a WHOLE OTHER STORY).
Helping my father do that was very gratifying, but it was also another time in my life where I was repurposing my hearth to support other creative pursuits than my own.
I think my expectations are managed about how much energy my creative pursuits will consume as I move forward onto new paths.
That said, they will keep a place at the hearth. For my health, and for the overall health of everything I serve.
And I happily serve you, dear reader.
I can’t guarantee you’re going to like what I’m serving, but I can certify that I will enjoy the process of preparing, and I am overjoyed to have a bit of room to focus on keeping the juices flowing.
All the best,
Jonathan “Doc Wattson” The Native Stranger