What makes you a singer-songwriter? Or a painter? Or a writer, a sculptor, an actor or dancer? At what point can we say, as artists, this is what I am? When do we get the right to tell people that we are an artist? I’ve been pondering this question a lot lately, and I’d like to share my thoughts on it, if you’ll indulge me.
What prompted this train of thought was my starting a new job. Doesn’t matter what the job is, it’s the usual stuff for me (just a different desk, chair and computer that looks the same as my old ones). I’m sure you can insert your own mundane version in there. But my point was, I asked myself again, at what point can I stop needing to do this because I’ve ‘made it’ as an artist? When can I turn and smile ‘See ya suckers!’ as I head out the door to join the ranks of professionals? The answer, if you play the odds, is, most likely, ‘never’.
So how do I process this? Do I finally give in to reason and admit defeat? Give up on that dream for good and just get on with getting ‘a real life’? Just get used to answering the inevitable conversation opener ‘So, what do you do?’ with ‘I work for a fundraising company’?
There’s another way to look at this. No office job is ever going to motivate me to get up in the morning and face the day with hope. It’s not going to help me with mental health issues, defeat my demons, lift my spirit, connect me with my soul and that of others’. It’s not going to move me, inspire me, regenerate me, heal me, excite me or stimulate me. I’m just not made that way.
But songwriting does.
To thine own self be honest.
So here’s how I see it. I am a songwriter. I don’t want to be one, I’m not trying to be one, I’m not hoping to one day be able to earn the right to call myself one. I am one, and I have been since the first time, at age 13, that I sat in my parent’s kitchen with my friend Marc and put some words to some chords. I’ve never stopped doing it, and I never will, because it’s not just what I am, it’s one of the things that defines who I am.
But I no longer see any romance in being a penniless artist struggling to eat in a dank bedsit. I want to enjoy life, to live and not just exist. The world does not owe me a living, I have to earn it. In the past music has provided this livelihood, and might do again in the future, but for now it doesn’t. So I work at something else, not to replace what I do as an artist, but to support it, finance it, keep me healthy and help me develop my craft. When I sit at my desk, I’m working on my art, because I’m doing the practical, mundane stuff that has to be done to make the magic happen.
So if you see me out and about and ask me what I do, I’ll tell you, ‘I’m a songwriter’. And it’ll be true.