by Mary Kastle
A few years ago, I hit a big wall in my music career. Looking back, I think it was “monetization exhaustion.” Don’t get me wrong, I aim to make a great living from my music as much as the next gal. But I found that brazenly pursuing the creative path, in an industry that itself was falling apart, drained every last drop of passion out of my “passion.”
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The trouble is we’re so inundated with messages that we need to capitalize on our every creative impulse, that it can be hard to separate our calling from the noise. I know I’m not the only artist who feels this way. “If I hear the word ‘monetize’ one more time…” was a comment I read recently on a blog post promoting Blink 182’s new online platform designed to help musicians cash in on the multitude of profit streams from their careers. It struck me because once again artists are being told by the media that the path to greatness is through making big bucks. Mind you, Blink 182 is cashing in on selling the “dream” to other artists, but what if having a successful music career means more than simply playing arenas and selling t-shirts? How do we incorporate these spiritual aspirations into our balance sheets?
The answer is (in my opinion) – you choose to. At this point it’s an individual process that we will all go through at some point. If you’re lucky enough to have a great teacher to guide you through it, then great! And maybe in a future utopia music education will include developing a personal rubric of values around creativity so every time you’re faced with adversity in your career you can refer back to this foundation for clarity. These are things I’ve had to learn the hard way…
I think as artists we need to bring this topic to the fore and help each other work it out. Otherwise we get pushed by society to adopt a value system that is out of alignment with our core purpose as musicians. Our integrity is challenged if we follow the money, yet we’re criticized for being bad at business if we renounce it. Looking back, I’ve been the artist so knee-deep in self-promotion I was practically spelling out my Paypal link on stage. It was ugly and it came from a place of complete desperation.
I remember being on tour in Montreal many years ago, passing the hat after the show, and an audience member looked me squarely in the eye and saying “Why SHOULD I give you this dollar?”. He was literally holding one effing dollar! This was after I had poured out my soul in song for two hours. Talk about feeling vulnerable and demeaned to the core. Not to mention how truly perplexed I was, knowing I needed to drum up enough for gas to get to the next show. I had neither the business nor spiritual acumen to advocate for my needs in the moment. After all, sacrificing everything for the road is the path to success, right? Not. There are many roads to Eden. Thankfully I realized that finding a better life balance has actually extended my creative life. It’s not exactly rock ’n roll, but it feels kinda sexy in its own subtle way.
On the flip side, I laughed my head off when I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert recently and in between songs he brought up the topic of his “new app.” At first I was confused. I thought he was telling us about an app he had just downloaded, but then I realized he was talking about HIS app — i.e. the Rufus Wainwright app! It is awkward and fascinating to watch artists work the sales pitch on stage. We all have to figure out our own path with it and Rufus was a first class role model — classy, a bit crass, and completely loveable!
The irony is if we constantly raise up “monetizing” to the highest priority, we devalue our artistry by making it all about money. Music’s power is so far beyond anything a dollar could ever represent. By constantly reducing it to these terms we pull down our inner artist from where it wants to live. That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a financial exchange and standing firm on our worth when negotiating gigs. All it means is that we have a more comprehensive value system to know where exactly those bottom lines are.
I’m lucky to be back in a state where I feel jazzed about what the music business has to offer, whatever that looks like. And, “if I hear the word monetize one more time…”, I know now that there is a place for it that is separate from the spiritual value of my music. It’s an exchange for the music I create, but I won’t beat myself up for creating other income streams or diminish my skills and track record as a professional musician. I will hold my music in alignment with my spiritual values as well as my business ones. And that to me is priceless.
Mary Kastle is a singer-songwriter, blogger, and clothing designer based on Bowen Island, BC. Her knack for thoughtful storytelling is echoed through all her work. Whether writing about the quirks of creativity, tapping her soul through song, or shaping some funky new fashions, her grounded groove is a constant thread. Check out her music with a free 3-song sampler.