How To Succeed As An Artist

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I’ve felt like an outsider all my life since I first began interacting socially with people outside of my family. My earliest memory of a social interaction is from when I was 4. My sister and brother and I were playing on the sidewalk with two sisters who lived down the street. The elder sister and my sister were dominating the convo which consisted mainly of the other girl (who was about 7, like my sister) sneering at various things about me and my brother (kids can be so mean sometimes), and my sister hotly countering the jibes with pithy comebacks such as, “So…?!!!” and “No he/she’s not!” During that conversation, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was freakishly small for my age, and that I looked much younger than I was (which is insulting when you’re 4).

And then my years at school began. It was the late 1970s, Canada. My grasp of English was limited. To be fair, that was true of the other 4 year olds too, though they were native English speakers. So I quickly caught up. But not before I started realising that everything about my experience (my culture, my family) was different from the common experience of my peers. My family was different. My parents were different. All the class activities which took for granted Canadian culture, tradition, and customs were foreign to me.

And then the moving began. My parents moved frequently, at least once a year, sometimes more. It was terrifying, but I soon got used to it: being the newest kid in the class, having no friends, feeling unsafe.

Things changed rather dramatically when I got to University as a 17 year old. I was a math student. We were ALL outsiders. It was like discovering my home planet. The only problem was that I didn’t particularly want to be a mathematician.  So after a couple of years of desperately trying to make myself be like everyone else, I gave up and changed paths to classical piano. Classical music students were just as geeky as math students, but again, I was a square peg trying to fit myself into a round hole. I was an appallingly bad classical piano student.

In fact, I was a terrible student, full stop. Academia did not suit me at all. I didn’t like doing my own work (though I was happy to help others with theirs). I didn’t like sitting in lectures. I was disorganised. My life was chaotic. But I had a glorious time doing whatever I wanted while always feeling like I was avoiding what I should be doing. And it was while I was procrastinating that I starting song writing. That was a long time ago. Autumn 1995. Nearly 20 years on, and I’ve realised what Jessica Hische has put so neatly: “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

When I was procrastinating I helped others, encouraged others (especially those who were disheartened). I wrote songs. I sang them. I shared them with anyone who would listen. And this has been the work I’ve been passionate about (and longing to do professionally) ever since I started doing it in my “spare time” as a student.

As an artist, a question that I get asked time and again is, “What makes you different? What’s different about what you do?” And this is an important question.

It’s hardly surprising that I find it so satisfying to perform my music and be an artist, since it’s a field where being different is not only allowed, but celebrated. We are all unique, we each have a unique set of experiences, unique DNA, evident in the uniqueness of our fingerprints. So at the heart of the question about what it is that makes my music different, is the question, what makes ME different? WHO AM I?

That’s a good question.

And a fucking impossible question.

Who am I? I’m discovering who I am all the time, with every passing moment, with every new bit of life experience. I express that in my music. I long to have more time and resources for it. But I celebrate the time and resources I DO have for it now. And in the midst of all this discovering, I encounter rejection again and again and again.

In April, I applied for Samsung’s “Launching People” competition, hoping to be chosen from hundreds of artists, to be mentored by Paloma Faith. I didn’t win the competition. At the end of April, I applied for a PRS For Music Foundation recording grant to record my second album (which is written and ready to go!!) and I didn’t make it to round 2 of the application process. Every time I attempt a “jump” for my music and I fall, after the initial disappointment, I celebrate. Because this is my story.

I am GLAD that my story isn’t: 

So I just wrote these songs and they were so awesome and someone in a position of great influence and power heard my songs and was like, “You are so awesome, let’s put you on a shortcut to stardom and everything you ever wanted.”  And then I became super successful! I’m so lucky! This never happens to anyone … just me!

I’m glad that’s not my story because that story SUCKS. That story is NOT REAL. That story is NOT THE WAY IT HAPPENS, despite the weird fantasy-illusion-belief that most people seem to have about the music industry, or any creative industry. This idea that you have to be lucky to make it, otherwise your career as an artist is pretty much doomed from the outset is a huge load of BS. This story is entirely disempowering to artists, placing the power of making their career possible in the hands of a small group of wealthy people and corporations. This is the fiction that is endorsed by those in power and then bought and propagated by those who are afraid of the work they’d have to do if they took responsibility for their own success. So it’s easy to see why so many artists buy into this fiction … because most artists would prefer not to do any work aside from their own creative work.

It’s tempting to want someone to step in and make things happen, especially when it feels like my own efforts have been ineffective for a long time. But giving in to that temptation, adopting that position means to give up all my power. And I am not willing to do that. I am not willing to place the power of making things happen in my life and career in the hands of others. Even if I were to get a recording grant, that wouldn’t be the funders making my record happen. It would be ME doing what I do, being who I am, inspiring funders to want to be a part of what I do.  Let’s set the record straight. Let’s get the REAL picture of who’s got the power here.

It’s the funders, the distributors, the labels, the publishers that need US the creatives, not the other way around. WE ARE THE REASON why they do the things they do. But THEY are are NOT the reason why WE CREATE.

So every time I feel knocked back, every time I put in a load of work, take a risk, and find that the result/response is not the outcome/boost I’d hoped for but simply the news that I’ve got to work harder, work longer, I CELEBRATE. My story is REAL.  And I want to share my story and for people to be inspired, encouraged, heartened, to know that the effort, the disappointments, all the passion and heart that they invest freely and generously into their art and work without any guarantee of being paid or being heard, this is all part of the journey.

YES, I want my music to be heard by as many people as possible. I want to have great impact. I want my songs to be so touching, so resonant, so relevant, so insightful, that one day, everywhere I go, I’ll hear other people singing my songs (and hopefully not because I’ve gone crazy). And I will explore every opportunity that comes my way that might help make that happen. But I am not looking for “luck” to get me where I want to go. That’s not to say that luck won’t happen. I’m saying that I’m not depending on luck.

I am going where I want to go, right now, every day. I’m going to keep writing my songs in as awesome and true a way as possible, and step by step, I will get to where I want to go. I feel confident of this.

So when I am rejected by Samsung or Paloma Faith, or the PRS for Music Foundation, I celebrate my journey and my story. I laugh thinking about how one day, when my songs are being sung by different people, and they’re a ubiquitous part of the music landscape, I’ll be able to say, “When I was looking to record this album in the way that I envisioned, and I looked for partners in that, I was turned down again and again. But I kept going and I found a way to do what I want to do.”

Now THAT is a story worth celebrating. One that will give people hope, and also be an accurate portrayal of reality, instead of the fantasies/lies that are perpetuated about creative professions and about success in general!

Rant over.

So you want to know how to succeed as an artist? Take heart. Your dreams are your destiny, if you just continue taking the steps each day towards them. One step at a time. There is a shortcut to success.  And it’s what my little boy might call a “longcut”. That shortcut is simply going where you want to go, step by step, like the proverbial tortoise. Begin by dreaming.

If you want to help make my second album happen, I’m raising the funds to record it right now. So if you want to help, you can do so at:

http://LeeSunMusic.com

via the “Buy Now” buttons …… and you’ll receive my album (either as a digital download or a CD depending on which you select) as well as my deepest gratitude 🙂

Or you can buy something from my eBay shop at:

http://stores.ebay.co.uk/Little-Music-Tree

If you do, please drop me a line at LEESUN [at] LEESUNMUSIC [dot] COM and I’ll send you an exclusive preview of my newest song, “Know, No Matter What (We All Matter)”!

 

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Trusting Your Gut Could Save Your Life

korea ferry disaster 2014-04-16I generally avoid keeping up with news, but from time to time, a story crosses my radar. I reckon friends will tell me about anything really important.

Today, I heard some news and was drawn in despite my general news avoidance.  I read the media reports and watched video footage and wept.

And I’m not writing about it here to depress you. I’m writing about it as a parent whose heart cries for the hundreds of people who lost their children yesterday, as their children did what they were taught to do.

So here’s the scenario:

What do you get when you combine a major disaster (ferry sinking) with hundreds of high school students (passengers) brought up in a culture of obedience to authority figures?

Tragedy.

The reports are damning. The consistent report from survivors is that they heard a thud, felt the ferry lurch, then were instructed to stay inside. They put on life vests and obeyed. This photo, showing students in life vests awaiting permission to go outside, was taken by one of the survivors. They waited for a half hour or more. And then it was too late for most of them. 

Almost 300 people  out of the original 459 passengers are still missing, likely dead. And every one of them followed the instructions given by the ferry’s crew and over the PA telling them to stay inside. The ones who didn’t listen and jumped into the sea survived, picked up by rescue helicopters and boats. Just think about that one.

It makes me so angry. My parents emigrated to Canada when I was 5 months old and Canadian culture is now a part of me. But I have plenty of experience of the values prevalent in Korean culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s all bad. But when you’re told that it’s far more important to obey your elders than to trust your gut, there is something seriously wrong. Though I’m all for respecting others (whether older or younger) and for working co-operatively with local and larger communities, I can’t feel good about not nurturing the best and most powerful part of being human: that bit inside that makes you able to think for yourself, feel for yourself, trust yourself.

It breaks my heart that those people (children) waited, compliantly, co-operatively on that ferry, and they are now dead.

I’m going to stop writing now because I’m crying again.

If you want to see the BBC article that I got the photo from, it’s here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27046246

 

Another one! Give me more!

 

KO 2014 May with balloonDo you know what’s awesome about raising a child? It’s the privilege of getting to experience a continual flow of “first experiences” through their eyes.

Yesterday, KO learned how to load the dishwasher. Not from start to finish. But he learned where cutlery goes, and where plates and glasses go. And I got to be there while he focussed on placing each piece of cutlery where it belonged. I was there when he asked innocuously while wielding a butcher’s knife, “Where do I put this big knife?” And I got to show him how to handle the potentially lethal weapon knife responsibly and lay it carefully on the knife rack. I watched as he experimented with arranging plates closer and farther apart with painstaking concentration. And the best bit was when he turned to me with bright eyes and said excitedly, “Another! Give me more! Give me another one!”

These first experiences full of joy and exploration happen daily, but they never get any less wonderful.

Yes, this is an idealistic snapshot of parenting, a moment taken out of context. All the wonderful moments are interspersed among challenging moments where my limits of patience, strength, creativity, kindness and wisdom are tested (and often found wanting). Read: I raise my voice (fine, I mean “shout”) more often than I would like. And there have been some sharp smacks to the bottom. Smacking and its purposes are a much discussed topic at home. That’s a subject for another blog post.

But most days as I’m working, the moments that come to mind vividly, filling my heart and making me grin, are those of KO looking as though he’ll burst with delight, every ounce of his being absorbed in something new he’s learned to do, or a new object he’s playing with, and his expression as he turns to me saying, “Give me more!”

Finding my passion daily is a lesson that I learn from my little boy. As I engage in each task in my day, I want to say, “Another! Give me more!”

Go on. Call me self-important and arrogant.

KO doing as he pleasesNot long ago, I saw a Russell Brand interview about his opinion of UK government.

I didn’t know much about Russell Brand, as I don’t have a TV, and I don’t follow celebs. But I enjoyed the interview. I watched it twice! Russell seemed to be honest, articulate, passionate, and caring. And I want to listen to anyone who displays those traits, whether they’re famous or not, whether they’re 100 years old or 2 years old or any age in between, and whatever other traits they may have.

Well, since Russell Brand has appeared on my radar, that thing has happened … you know, that thing where you become aware of something or someone, and suddenly you start noticing loads of other references to that thing or person in your day-to-day life.

And the thing that bemuses me, is how so many people get worked up about Russell Brand, actually ANGRY at him. And the main thing they’re angry about is they think he’s arrogant and self-important.

Mirriam-Webster online defines self-important as:  having too high an opinion of your own importance. Seems rather vague. How high is “too high”? If anything, it seems to me that most people have far too low an opinion of their own importance. OF COURSE people should have a high opinion of their own importance.  They ARE important. IMMEASURABLY important. Because they are ALIVE (what a mystery!), and that means just by being themselves they can change the world.

So why did I post a pic above of KO pulling a face? Because KO could care less what any celeb is up to. And KO has got an incredibly high opinion of his own importance. This is the boy who does not feel the least bit sorry to drag his exhausted hard-working mother out of bed at 5.30am in order to play games with him downstairs. Grrr.

Very young children have got a healthy sense of self-importance. Sure, they could really work on recognising that OTHERS are EQUALLY IMPORTANT (take note, son!!!), but that comes with time. That’s called maturing. That’s called empathy.

Ever seen a young child in action, interacting with another person? Chances are, you’ll see they don’t give a flying fuck whether someone is rich or poor, “successful” or not, famous or obscure, “attractive” or not, thin or fat, tall or short, brilliant or bumbling, male or female, black or white, gay or straight, and so on and so on. When a child asks why someone is in a wheelchair, or looks different, it’s not to judge that person. It’s to understand the complex and confusing world around them. It’s a desire to know WHY.

Children instinctively understand that these things do not define a person or determine a person’s worth.  Children are utterly unconcerned with a person’s social status, and more concerned about whether people interact kindly with them, whether they engage with them and are interested in them, whether people approach life creatively, fearlessly, lovingly, and authentically. We can learn a lot from children, in this and in many other ways.

So you think Russell Brand is self-important? Well good for him. Perhaps the issue is not the high opinion he has of himself, but the relatively low opinion you have of yourself? 😀 I said PERHAPS!

So go on, call me arrogant, or call me self-important. I don’t mind. I DO think highly of myself. And I also think highly of YOU!

Fuck the bucket list! (And fuck off to New Year’s resolutions!)

[Warning: If you haven’t guessed, there is swearing in this post. If that offends you, you may want to stop reading now.]

I’ve always bristled at any attempts to contain individuality. I don’t like labelling people. Once, when I was a student, I sent a boyfriend a long letter ranting about why I hated it when people approached dating and potential partners with a huge tick list (that’s “check list” in North American English). As you can imagine, he was a bit bemused.

The mere idea of trying to reduce a person to a list of traits gets my hackles up. I know that labels and details of humans and human behaviour can be useful for all sorts of things, like figuring out ways to help people. Labels are useful because they reduce something that is very complex to something that is graspable, quantifiable. Things that are impossible to pin down can be reduced to data that you can manipulate for your own purposes.

The problem is that anything viewed in quantifiable terms lends itself to being judged. This isn’t a problem if you’re a researcher, looking for ways to innovate, and you need data. But it can be a HUGE problem for anyone who is seeking to be a happy healthy human. Judging oneself (and consequently others) is short cut to misery.

So what does this have to do with bucket lists? Well, a bucket list is basically a way of quantifying experiences that your life has to include in order for you to feel most fulfilled. Well, fuck off to that. Whatever happened to enjoying the moment, and appreciating being alive, right NOW regardless of what the past has been like and what the future holds?

OF COURSE everyone has difficult experiences in their history. And OF COURSE we all want to experience wonderful, magical times in our future. But the only time that we are EVER alive is the present. And the only way we can experience the wonder and magic of being alive is if we pay attention to what is going on in our present, and participate in that. And the best way to participate in the present is to say FUCK OFF to judgements and agendas: stop judging yourself, judging others, judging life.

I say leave your agenda where it belongs (which is anywhere but in the present moment), and open yourself up to the infinite possibilities of each moment. Fuck the bucket list. And experience THIS moment to its fullest.

In fairness, I do like certain aspects of bucket lists. “What do I REALLY want to do?” is a GREAT question. And “What can I do with what I’ve got NOW, in a way that honours my desires, as well as the present moment? How can I stop making excuses for not doing NOW what I really want to do?” are more great questions.

It’s the “What do I really want to do BEFORE I DIE?” bit that pisses me off.

Anyway, a belated Happy New Year to you! I’d best be off now … to tackle something on my bucket list 😉