Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Matt Ham. Matt is dedicated to guiding others toward rich living. Through his RICH Principles he helps folks uncover true richness, identifying real treasure and discovering true joy and contentment. Visit www.mattham.com for more.
I was never a musician and certainly not a singer. At least that’s what I continually told myself. I could casually strum familiar chords and I knew a few song progressions, maybe enough to entertain – well – myself.
I was certainly not a performer. In fact, I played behind closed doors and only graced myself with my lack of vocal ability in the shower or in the car.
I had tried the stage thing before. Nothing but crickets.
Regardless of encouragement from family and friends, I never believed in my art.
Believe in your art
One night, while some friends were over, they harassed me into picking up the guitar. At their request, I played and sang along to familiar favorites.
Before the night was over, I was being offered a playing gig. One of the friends was the event director for our community pool and threw out the offer.
“I’ll give you $100 to come play for our cookout.”
Just out of college, I sure could use the $100. So, I took my first gig.
At the pool party, I was approached by someone else.
“I own a restaurant downtown; I would love you to play one night. How much do you charge?”
I said the first thing that came to mind, “I don’t perform really.”
“Well you should, how’s $100?”
Two weeks later, I was playing downtown. However, I still didn’t embrace the reality that I was becoming a musician, being paid to entertain.
I knew nothing of playing in front of crowds and I was completely oblivious to having a setlist. I sang what I wanted to sing and played what came to mind. Mostly Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson and random 80’s favorites from my childhood, an odd setlist at that. Somehow, the gigs kept coming and before I knew it, I was playing four nights a week.
There was never this aha moment; there was never the name-in-lights. It just always seemed to happen. One show after another.
Despite being continually paid to perform, I found myself still using the same line.
“I’m not a musician.”
What was it going to take for me to believe in myself?
One night, it happened.
I found myself in unfamiliar territory. I’d gotten used to cafes, small restaurants and college venues, but this night I was in a place I could only call a smoky bar. It was a different crowd that I had ever played to.
The bar owner offered an open mic and told me it would serve as an audition for future gigs.
I jumped up and started my usual gig. I mixed in an atypical cover of a ridiculously awesome ‘80s song, Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.”
It bombed. I bombed.
Needless to say, I didn’t get any future gigs there.
Know thy audience
This experience taught me what the ancient philosophers said was essential: “Know Thyself.”
In this case, I’ll add, “Know Thy Audience.”
With any art, whether it be writing, painting or music, you can’t sacrifice yourself. You never sell out to your audience. You simply need to know them.
Whether I believed it or not, I was a musician. I needed to embrace it and understand my art.
Finding the cross-section between who you are and what your audience is demanding is essential. In my case as a musician, I had played pool parties and cafes. The new venue was me trying to do too much, to be someone I wasn’t.
This lesson has given me great confidence as a writer.
For a long time, I tried to wedge myself into following all of the rules and being perfect.
I failed to define my art.
I’ve learned that clear definitions lead to clear direction.
As a musician I was reminded to stick with the crowd that likes cheesy ‘80s music and cut loose when prompted. They loved it.
As you perfect your art, let your audience guide you. Listen to their cheers as you believe in your art and let it move you.
Jeff has written, “Art is only as good as the people it moves.” I love that line.
My lesson as a singer? I can’t move everyone. And that’s OK.
What is your audience telling you? Share in the comments.