Have you ever wondered why someone decides to pick up a guitar (violin, piano, etc.) and hit the road for a week, month, or year? Have you ever stopped to ask why artists spend hours upon hours in make-shift recording studios? Have you ever asked a musician what it is about their music that gives them life?
To be honest, having been a professional musician for over 13 years now, these questions rarely come about - usually only in interviews with radio, magazine, bloggers, or my closest friends and family.
Dan Haseltine (lead singer of Jars of Clay) wrote this recently:
I don’t know if you have ever thought about it, the reasons an artist might decide to go out on the road and perform concerts night after night. It might seem like a simple matter of economics. After all, at a point in history where people are not buying music in any shape that would allow artists to make the labor of creating music, a sole vocation, it is obvious that concerts would factor in.
The economics do matter. People can support an artist by purchasing a concert ticket and maybe a t-shirt at a show. This helps put confidence into the minds of the promoters that have to wonder if the gamble they make on the artist is a good one or not. If fans don’t show up for concerts, artist, will take their nomadic circuses elsewhere, since promoters don’t usually gamble on the same act more than once.
There is the record cycle. This is the space usually 3 months before a record releases, and six months to a year after the record is released. Artists tour and perform a specific group of songs in order to promote the recordings, and bolster sales and awareness of the band. This also helps solidify a brand with images and a performance aesthetic that helps define who the artist is and wants to be.
Some artists tour because they are in demand. The tour is more of a response to a cultural awareness, or exposure that placed them in the public conscience for a given moment., in other words, striking while the iron is hot. Others tour in order to build the necessary army of fans who support and push the artist into the public conscience.
Some artists tour with a transactional mindset. They are there to capitalize on their success, ride the wave and suck as much life out of their fifteen seconds of fame. The artist operates similarly to a professional athlete who knows they only have a few solid years of wear and tear on their bodies, so they push for the greatest amounts of money and build their sponsorship and endorsement portfolios as quickly as possible.
So why do I do music, recording, and touring?
Simply put, it's who I am. It's as natural an activity as going to the grocery store, going to work, eating food, and breathing. When I go a month or so without performing, I get the itch. The act of performance, isn't really an act at all; it's the natural outpouring of who God made me to be. So I pack up the suburban with my instruments and merchandise and hit the road for a few days, sometimes playing to hundreds of energetic fans and friends, and sometimes to the sound-guy and bar staff. But whoever is in attendance, the act of performing does something to (and for) me.
I write songs because I hear songs in my head that need to be written. I don't write them with a specific audience in mind, a demographic, a sales pitch; but because the words are something that I feel needs said. I'm able to wrestle with life, faith, politics, and relationships when I write. I'm able to speak in a voice I could not otherwise. The words say things. The instruments say things. And trust me, there's plenty to say!
So thank you for listening, buying my records, bringing your friends out to my shows. You help me breathe!