VB Awaremess Month: What Does it Mean for a Band to Make It? 

One of the things going through my mind with The Vulgar Boatmen is how do you define the quality of a band and how that relates to its perceived success? Did they make it? 

There has always been a thick line in my mind between “Making It” and “Not Making it.” On the one side you have failure, not good enough, should have stuck with playing covers, and “I’ve deluded myself thinking I could be a successful musician.” On the other side, “you’re signed,” “welcome to the club,” “you don’t have to work a day job,” “your talent and hard work has been independently evaluated and it has been determined that you have what it takes. Congratulations.” While the taxman may say that your occupation is “entertainer,” you are a rock star, a cultural icon, the voice of a generation, you are the person that the losers of the world look up to from their lonely, pathetic meaningless lives! 

If you’ve never fallen into that trap, let me know. I need a life coach. 

I know it is all wrong. But no matter how much light I try to shine on it, I still have trouble shaking it. When I look up a new band on YouTube, the first thing I look at is the number of views. If it is 5,000,000, I’m jealous and think there must be something shady going on. If it is 5,000, I wonder if they have day jobs. If it is 50, I say, “How cool am I? I can still pick out awesome music that the rest of the ignorant population ignores.” Then I ask myself how many listens would it take for me to feel validated about our band, The Deep Roots? Given my vanity, after one billion listens I’d still be depressed that we weren’t bigger in India. 

We have all heard the “down” side of making it. The debt to the record company, but also the isolation and all that goes with it. If you are doing music full-time, there is the risk that you won’t develop skills or aspects of your personality that would have been developed if you had to live a “normal” life with a job. You can easily ended up deformed looking like a character from Spinal Tap. 

However, recently I interviewed Jacob Stempky of The Mixus Brothers, and he views things in terms of “inspiration.” I had never really figured that into the equation. I looked up the definition of the verb inspire: “fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” 

Why not reframe the question of success from “did I make it” to “did I inspire?” Inspiration operates outside of the cash economy. You can’t pay someone $20 to inspire you. It has its own invisible economy. As Jacob describes it, you inspire someone and they inspire you back. It has its own life cycle. You don’t lose out when you inspire. You end up receiving more than you gave. 

I think the opposite of being inspired is “too busy doing what you have to do or resting up to do what you have to do instead of spending some time on what you were meant to do.” 

My take away from this is to ask myself, “Am I inspiring the people around me, my friends family, neighbors, and co-workers? Am I filling them with the urge or ability to create? Maybe I’ll rid my mind of the rock star bs once and for all or at least stop worrying about success. 

You may have guessed that no band has inspired me more than The Vulgar Boatmen.

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