Journal

Open letter to musicians struggling in big cities


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London - Is it worth the trouble?

A week ago or so, my friend Meerenai Shim pointed me to a blog post written by Demetrius Spaneas about The need for struggle. I read the thing carefully and I thought that I would have agreed with it 10 years ago. I closed the tab of my browser and didn’t think about it further. Until yesterday. It came to my mind again while I was reading a book about love, snobbery, expectations and social status and got me thinking. Not quite related at first sight, but you’ll see that there is common ground.

So where was I ten years ago? I was working and studying at the same time, and living in one of the big arts centers called Paris. I had a very busy schedule divided between performing, teaching, practicing, studying (and… partying!). Unfortunately, living in this kind of big city is expensive and I was struggling there. I was able to support myself but that was it. Of course, I was part of what seemed to me at this time an exciting “creative vortex” and thought this was the only way for a musician to have any type of career. In fact this was just the modern version of the romantic struggling artist: the broke musician in an inspiring creative vortex playing his instrument whatever the cost and trying to reach a balance between his need for pure art and his need to make money. [Funnily enough, it's the time in my career where I played a lot of romantic music]

The truth is it’s a damn good fairy tale for PR managers, but now that I can put things in perspective, I assure you the reality was very different. I had no money left for any project that could have helped my career and the “creative vortex” was in fact a farce where the main needed skills to be promoted to the rank of genius were in fact sycophancy and snobbery. I met some other people in this vortex, very creative people, very intelligent people, but most of them seem to be dead from a creative point of view, or sucked by another vortex, this of despair and depression. Yep, the Vortex fears intelligent people who could crack its secret: the magic creative vortex is in fact a stinky bottomless hole. From these years, I’ll remember practically learning nothing as a student, working as a slave in the highest insecurity, making no progress at all in my career and being snobbed.

In fact, every single move during this period was short-sighted because I couldn’t afford long-term thinking. I needed to work more not to be able to do more things, but just to be able to live in this megalopolis. The insecurity in which I constantly lived during this period couldn’t do anything else than suck the creativity of me and I compensated this lack of creativity by telling myself the fairy tale I talked about earlier. Fortunately, I realized that and was able to turn things around. I flee this type of super-PR-hypebeasts-pseudo-arts-centers, enrolled at the Prague Conservatory and I spent the most amazing time of my student life with a non-hype, atypical and more than interesting teacher. No hype. No stars. No vortex.

I just shifted paradigms. Instead of elevating my ratio of day job in the money/Art equation to be able to stay where it’s supposed to happen, I went for another life, where money matters less because you need less of it, and where you can definitely increase the Art component of your equation without starving or dying from stress.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to pack your stuff right now and move to Sipoteni, Moldavia because it’s cheaper. I’m telling that you’re not forced to do anything and there is always another way around and that if you feel like struggling financially speaking you might be on the wrong path. Maybe the financial burden of the big expensive city isn’t worth the trouble. There is absolutely no pre-define path and your artistic success is definitely not tied to a location. Create the good conditions for you to move forward, you’re the architect of your own career. If you feel stuck at some point, shift perspective and change something.

Let’s just take a few examples of meaningful artists that proves this fairy tale wrong. Do you know where Kürten is? A small village 40 minutes north-east of Cologne, Germany. Karlheinz Stockhausen lived there from 1965 to his death in 2007. Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli lived in Lugano, Switzerland. Ravel in Montfort-l’Amaury, which was the countryside at the beginning of the 20th century. Glenn Gould in Toronto. And to speak of living musicians, my friend composer Marc Yeats lives in the UK countryside. And the list goes on and on.

Although I can understand the advantage of being “where it happens” before the digital era, I really think new technologies allowed musicians to be truly location independent. At least it allowed me to stop struggling and focus on my art and believe me, I’m much more happy and productive than ever before. Of course, you’ll always find idiots looking down on you because you’re not living in New-York or London, but please, don’t let snobbery, expectations or social status take the control of your career. Put your artistic vision in the driver’s seat.