Blog 5 Requiem for advice

After 4 weeks touring New Zealand during the weekends with my brilliant 17 year old guitarist Finn, I started thinking about what to do after we release the album here in New Zealand.

As the result of a bunch of experiences in the last few years my belief that a interventionist god will one day put into place all the right connections to make me a big-rich-rock-star has kind of been worn down, but what’s far harder for me is that my faith that “if it doesn’t happen for me, its because god has a different (higher) plan for me” has also evaporated.

It’s hard to describe how painful this second concept is. I suppose for those who never believed in spirit it would be hard to understand what a beautiful comfort it is to know that wherever you end up, provided you stay in integrity, is exactly where you’re meant to be, and that everything, no matter how difficult, is perfect. That’s what I’ve always felt and believed and now that I feel more existentially on my own, I think if I don’t ‘make it’ then there’s no reason other than I wasn’t talented, connected, or lucky enough.

I still can’t say that I don’t believe in spirit at all, at an intellectual level I guess I could be close to saying that, but at an emotional level, despite all the weariness and fears of the last 2 years, I don’t know, I guess deep deep down somewhere there’s still some ember burning, I still feel something…

I won’t go into all the dimensions that such an psychological/emotional transformation brings up and how vulnerable this new shapeless paradigm has felt over the last 2 years, because that would take a whole book in and of itself and I just want to talk about how it specifically relates to music, at this moment.

I’m left thinking that the only way it’s going to happen is if I try my hardest and if I have a little luck, and that if it doesn’t happen it’s because I didn’t have the skills or luck to make it happen. (By luck I simply mean being in the right place at the right time, not something mystical or wieldable)

The burden of this responsibility can be empowering and inspiring as well as being overwhelming and frightening. I’m trying to stick with inspired and empowered because if I think too much about overwhelmed and scared I think I’d get depressed or worse still, give up.

When I was a child, before I ever even thought about god (my mum said there wasn’t one, my grandparents said there was) I had this belief, for as long as I can remember, that I would be famous. At first I thought it would be as an actor and then I thought as a writer and at 10 I thought as a rapper but then from 13 on I’ve thought as a songwriter.

I always polarised people. In the playground it seemed I only had either friends or enemies, and in the classroom my teachers either hated me or loved me. The ones that loved me said special things about me, including that I was destined for great things or that I’d be famous…
I never questioned this. I never thought “I wonder if”, I only ever wondered “when”. After getting through drug addiction as a teenager and spending my early recovery going back to school, studying various religions and focusing on spiritual and emotional growth, I properly started my music career at 20. Music and my mother’s pain had been my primary motivators for getting clean and I’d spent the first three years of recovery from 17 on waiting for my opportunity.

After a year of forming my band, touring, recording demos etc, things seemed on track and three years later when the album came out and we were on TV and radio etc it appeared like (despite taking a lot longer than I thought) it was all going to happen.

Then the band started splitting up and a good friend of mine kind of filled that security and gap, not just in terms of the vision for, and the affirmation of, my music that he gave me, but also in our emotional and spiritual connection.

The band did one last record and I ended up going to Europe and America for a few weeks. Despite 2 years of little outward activity between albums I again felt like this was finally it, there I’d meet the connections god had been storing up for me, and in a lot of ways that trip couldn’t have gone better, I met an amazing producer in recovery who shared a vision I’d long held about recreating the Laurel Canyon sound who spent days talking with me and recording my songs, and I met another producer who recorded a demo with me that he wanted to get on the prolific indie radio lists. Both made me feel like I could really do it in the US and my week in England was almost as fruitful; playing at a festival, meeting some awesome musos and getting a feel for the place I could create in that scene.

I came home and my good friend and I stared working on a new type of production/record company. With a celebrated background in advertising and branding he’d spent the previous year researching and studying the current record industry and how it was coping with Mp3 file sharing and disc burning and he was coming up with a bunch of innovative digital-age strategies for how to make it in the music industry. We spent the next year working on this together (during which time I didn’t play any shows or release any music) and at the very last minute he left the project and the whole thing collapsed.

That was the closest I’ve come to giving up. I didn’t, and the spiritual beliefs I held at that time stopped me from even considering it, but it took its toll and since that time I started looking at everything differently; first my unwavering faith that I was destined to be famous, and then secondly and more fundamentally my beliefs in general, including my spiritual ones.

It took a year of rebuilding to finally get some momentum back and now 18 months after that I’ve shot a video clip and have a second one planned, created an awesome website, got a brilliant new band around me, completed a national tour with my guitarist (and packed out 10 of 12 venues), got the best distributor in the country to release my new record and have a full band tour planned.

It’s all happening again and I’m all fired up to make things happen, the difference for me now is I no longer believe that anything or anyone will make it happen for me and yet I know that I don’t know how to do it alone.
I’d love to be so famous that the messages in my songs could reach millions of people and I could influence the mass consciousness of the planet in some way. I’d also love to be able to generate millions of dollars so that I could distribute that wealth into the amazing projects and work that thousands of dedicated selfless people are struggling to keep going worldwide.

But even if those lofty goals remain out of my reach I’d love even just to be able to quit my day job and play low-key shows around the place, inspiring a small fan base and earning enough money to be able to start a family with my partner.

The thing is my guitarist and I played an average of 2 shows a week for 6 weeks and played to an average of 50 people at $10 each. That’s $1000 a week for two shows. The cost of promoting the shows was about $150 a show, and travel and food for each show was about $150, leaving about $200 profit from each show which we would have needed to spend on accommodation if not for the generosity of our friends.

Now if I quit work and he quit school and we could do 4 or 5 shows a week the costs of travel per show would come down heaps, but we’d be mostly playing all the small towns that we missed out this time, and would have to be very popular and lucky to get even 50 people each night, plus we’d be away from home all week long so needing accommodation in remote areas for weeks at a time, which would become costly. The best I can see that model working here in New Zealand is that we end up perpetually touring and just covering costs. Which is fine until you have a bad week, or the van breaks down, or you need to fly home for a funeral, or you want to buy a new microphone… But if you wanted to actually be able to record an album or support a family, you’d need another model.

Even still, that model would be totally worth doing in the short term if we were in a country that either had a lot of bigger towns or had a lot of influential music industry people in it (e.g. band members who might see us play and then invite us to tour with them, festival promoters who might get us on a circuit, agents who might negotiate for us, or record people who might pick us up and sign us). While those things could still happen in NZ, my belief is that in either Europe or the US the chance of that happening with a person who holds a significant opportunity is far more likely.

My only hesitation about taking Finn, the new record and the website offshore now is the fact that I have almost no connections in Europe or the US, and that I’ve been told time and time again that it is impossible to break into the scenes over there and that you can’t even book gigs if you’re not already established, let alone pull a crowd.

My fear about losing what I’ve got here in NZ in terms of my lovely flat and my great flexible job etc is big, but that wouldn’t stop me for a second. The only thing holding me back is that I don’t know if it’s possible for a 29 year old unknown to turn up into a new scene rife with talent, competition and established cliques, and break through enough to start earning, before he spends his life savings of 2000 Euros on food, youth hostels and phone bills?

This is my quandary and this is my conundrum. Any suggestions, ideas or feedback would be most appreciated.



2 Responses to “Blog 5 Requiem for advice”

  1.  James Hook Says:

    Any prospect of an Auckland Gig in 2010?
    I love the album, keep themn coming!

    Cheers – James

  2.  Maddie Says:

    Im not sure how relevant this advice is now. Perhaps you have sorted everything out and are now back on track in regards to the direction you want to take your music, the band and your own life – in that case definitely feel free to disregard the following.

    Tommy when I read your blog (above) it worried me at how disheartened you felt (and perhaps still feel) about your ability to ‘make it’ in the music industry. I can only wonder how you can feel anything other than complete confidence in achieving success because it seems to me, an outsider, that in so many ways you have already ‘made it’. Being financially and internationally successful can only be the next step for you and the band.

    I can understand your hesitation at leaving the country in an attempt to become recognized on a wider scale – its a huge risk, there is no denying it – but I have found that the decisions or choices that scare us the most are often the ones that are most worthwhile. Almost two years ago my grandfather, who I am very close to, became very ill – we thought he was going to die – and I spent a lot of time with him in Hospital. During one of my visits he gave me some advice which seems to be relevant to your situation as well. He told me that upon reflecting over his life he had come to realise that he regretted the opportunities and risks he didn’t take far more then those he did. So I think when it comes to deciding on the next step for your band and for yourself you need to first decide whether or not you can spend the rest of your life wondering ‘what if?’. ‘What if’ can become the most poisonous of thoughts and never underestimate how destructive it can be to a man’s soul and peace of mind. So I guess my advice, in short haha, is live with no regrets. Whatever choice you make, make it with confidence and faith and don’t be afraid to take the more difficult route if it is the one that will lead you to happiness and fulfillment. If you can do that then there is no chance, whatsoever, that you will be left wondering ‘what if…’ for the rest of your life.

    A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. You know?

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