Rejection is never easy. You don’t expect to be rejected when you start a thing. You think, “I’ve got this” and wait for the results. Even if your intelligent brain tells you, you may fail, I’d be willing to bet that you always hold out that glimmer of hope that this time you’ll get whatever it is you’ve asked for.
Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter. You can go on to the next thing and keep on doing it until something clicks. But if you are an independent artist, and your survival depends on getting that grant to keep going, that rejection is doubly painful. Often you have to start over and try again.
I’ve lost my share of grant proposals, and I’ve wrung my hands in frustration more than once because the reasons for losing whatever this was seem so subjective. But – I’ve also gotten quite a few. Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a crap shoot. You roll the dice and take a chance. You might get lucky. And I think there is more than a small amount of luck present. Sometimes you can’t predict.
So how do you deal with this? Sure an inordinate amount of cocktails and fist shaking might make you feel better, but it doesn’t solve the problem of lack of funds. Your project may be derailed, and your prospects for a future in your chosen artistic career may seem dim to non-existent. But you have to keep going. You can’t give up. One of the laws of rejection is the rule of attrition. Sometimes when the playing field gets empty of competitors you could be the only man left standing.
All funding bodies operate under the same principles. They have to. Your product has to fit into a predetermined set of parameters in order to be accepted. Can you sell? Are you clear about what you’re doing with the money? Do you have people in the business who can vouch for you? Are you fresh? Do you present something that is interesting but not too off the map? Do you have staying power? Can you survive without the funding? Do you have a team around you? This all seems so straight-forward and something you could read on a website, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of folks don’t have all these questions answered when they apply for funding. I don’t – often, but I’ve still managed to get the grant. Without these, you may be setting yourself up for rejection.
What about competitions and contests? Someone has to win, and everyone else has to lose. It’s what a contest is. If there ever was a set-up for rejection, it’s a contest – especially one open to thousands of people from all over the world. The odds of losing are pretty high, and if it keeps happening over and over, it can become soul-numbing. But….
What can you do? I have learned over the years that there will always be an element of rejection in my work. Some folks will like it. Some won’t. But I keep going. If I can connect with a few people, I’m doing my work well. If someone buys a CD, I’ve succeeded. If I can sing in front of an audience that is listening, I’m fulfilled. Maybe I won’t win that contest, maybe I won’t get the grant. But my music is something no one can take away from me. They just can’t. It’s all subjective for me. It’s mine to own. I don’t owe anyone else for my successes or failures. If I chose to be upset over my failures, oh well. Tomorrow is another day. I have learned that I will never fit perfectly into anyone’s mold, and that’s a good thing.
People often ask me what I do. When I say I’m a singer-songwriter-musician, they always ask, “What kind of music?”I have to admit I say everything but folk. Blues, gospel, country, pop – everything but folk. But in truth, I am a folk artist. That’s the most accurate description of what my music really is. But why the hesitation?
Merriam-Webster defines folk as “typically of unknown authorship and is transmitted orally from generation to generation.”Maybe traditional folk music meets that definition, but it’s not what I do.
I found this description at thoughtco.com, and I think it comes closest to what I think folk music is.
Outside of musicology, ‘folk music’ is more frequently used to describe a style of music that has evolved rapidly over the last century. You’ll hear critics and fans alike referring to an artist as ‘folky,’ and generally that doesn’t mean they’re borrowing a melody from a traditional source. Instead, that term is given to songs that are played using instruments not typically seen in a rock or pop band. Whether or not the song they’ve written on their acoustic instrument will survive across generations until it’s commonplace doesn’t seem to matter with many modern critics and fans. It has still found its way into the ‘folk vernacular.’ Debating if this dilutes the tradition of folk music is a frequent conversation among critics, musicologists and fans alike.
Yes, that’s a little closer. A songwriter using acoustic instruments singing of my life. So not a pop artist. Whatever I’m going through becomes fodder for my songs. My music isn’t traditional. But it is acoustic. So why the hesitation? In Ontario alone, there are over 100 folk festivals offering a myriad of musical offerings. Folk Music Ontario is a thriving member community with an annual conference. Folk Alliance International held its annual conference in Montreal this year. Many radio stations in Canada are devoted to just folk music, and the Canadian Folk Music Awards honour the music annually. But … some major festivals have started adding what many consider non-folk music to their line-ups in order to put bums in seats (or on blankets?). Some of the major newspapers and magazines do not cover folk music. The Junos, Canada’s major music awards, do not recognize folk as a genre. Even CBC, the nation’s radio network, tends to shy away from defining folk as its own genre.Perhaps it’s in the labeling that we have difficulty.
Ask anyone of my generation what folk music is, and they will invariably describe faded hippies float dancing at the side of a festival stage with Birkenstocks and facial hair – banjos and acoustic guitars around a campfire with songs your grandparents sang. Hmm. But it’s so much more than that. I think it has evolved into a blend of music as culturally diverse as our communities are. We as musicians absorb all that is around us. We have to. And in so doing, we adapt and mutate the music into something we can call our own. It has its roots in the culture but its head is in folk.
When the powers that be labelled the music “roots,” it felt a little closer to the truth. It is rooted in our way of being. It pays homage to our roots, our ancestors – the music that has come before. I was happy with that label and felt better about using it to describe what I did. But over time, albeit a short time, it came to mean something different. The mainstream made it a thing. It was a fashion statement. It was a formula. It was its own genre, specific and defined. I felt disconnected from it.
Then I became an Americana artist. Again, that label did not stick to me. It became another thing, another mainstream box I quickly outgrew. Country artist, blues artist – I’ve worn them all. But they do not really define me.
But if I look back on my early influences – Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jim Croce – I’m a folk artist. I hesitate even now to call myself that. But it is the most accurate description of what I am and what I do. I write songs for an acoustic guitar, which reflect the daily challenges and joys of being human. I’m not writing music for mass consumption; I’m writing it for intimate gatherings and eager listeners. I’m sharing my truths in a way I know how to. I’m hoping that someone will connect enough to find some comfort, some truth, some hope, something that speaks of the human condition. Isn’t that what traditional folk music was all about? Something relaying the human condition in song?
I wish for a perfect world where we would not have to label things. I understand that it is a useful tool to find things. Searching by labels pinpoints our results. Folk is alive and well and represents a very diverse community of artists. Perhaps we need to look at the definition and try to find ways to change our perceptions of what folk really is. Generations have embraced it no matter the flavour of the decade. And it doesn’t die. It may go underground, but it doesn’t fade away. Any media outlet that proclaims its all-encompassing overview of what Canada is cannot afford to ignore it. Yes, it will probably not win any medals, but it does exist and cannot be overlooked.
Maybe we need to change the words we use
Jane Eamon is a veteran singer-songwriter and music community-builder from the B.C. interior. She has just launched her brand new album, Pieces of Me – hear samples below – and she shares with us some candid thoughts about making the music business meaningful as an older artist with limitations on her finances and mobility. Thank you for such a loving and honest piece, Jane!
I have just released a new CD, Pieces of Me. It’s number seven, and it cost a lot of money. I want the world to hear it. I want to be embraced by my fans and the general public and – possibly – make enough money to do another one. But – and here’s the big but – things are different now. I don’t drive, so touring is an onerous option. I don’t have my husband anymore to play with me. I’m over 65, and I don’t have the start-up capital to promote and produce videos and marketing materials. So now what?
Things have changed so dramatically with the established music models that the way we’ve always done things is not necessarily the way things are now. It doesn’t mean that parts of these models aren’t effective and worth pursuing. It does mean though, that not everything works as it should. Record a CD, get it out to media and radio, get it reviewed (positively), sell it to distribution channels (iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby) and then book an extensive tour where you can sell lots of CDs to your adoring fans both old and new. Try to tour with the least amount of expense, come back and repeat.
Recording runs the gamut from cheap-on-my-home-stereo to thousands of dollars with a big name producer in a top notch studio. Both methods have pros and cons. Both work and fail. Niche media plays a lot of the lesser-known folks, but the bottom line in a lot of cases is listeners. So playing what the listeners want is often the driving force. CBC still remains pretty much the mainstay of lesser known music, but even that is changing these days with younger demographics demanding their own music. You can pay to have your record reviewed. Or you can chance what someone says. But I imagine most respected reviewers are deluged with CDs, and it becomes a full-time job just to wade through the piles. What are the chances of you getting to the top of that pile AND getting a positive review? And don’t get me started on distribution channels. In the age of millions of streams for very little payback, why would I want to direct traffic to someone else’s site? Have I bought into the belief that iTunes is the only way?
So this time, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to try and take back control of how my art gets into the world. I have often been frustrated with the difficulty of making my way in the music business. I have toured, I have played house concerts, I have recorded seven CDs, I have sold off CD Baby, I have promoted, planned, talked, and played every gig I could, had numerous websites and, at the end of it all, been exhausted. I even began to resent the process just a little bit. I even toyed with the idea of packing it all in.
It’s funny though, how the art won’t leave you. It bubbles up when you least expect it demanding your attention. Sure, I could keep it to my chest, not sharing it with anyone. But sometimes you have to share. It’s what keeps the art moving in the world. It stirs the pot and adds to the great mix. It makes folks think and inspires others.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this. I know a lot of musicians who make a living working the old methods. Touring constantly and recording CDs. But even they have doubts. Even they talk about how hard it seems to be. And they spend a lot of time on the road. I can’t do that. I have to stay put.
So I had to build a community space where folks could find me – where you could sit with a glass of wine and listen to music, where you could peruse the pictures and read what the songs were about, where you could look at poetry and maybe find a book to read, where you could drop me a line and tell me what you think, where you could read a blog. So that’s what I did.
I created my website – janeeamon.net. The songs from the new album, and my previous album, She’s the Girl, are available for streaming. The whole songs, not clips. You can listen as many times as you like. But if you want to own them, you buy them. I’m not on iTunes, and I won’t be. I want folks to come and visit me and hang out with the whole me, not just my music.
I take photos, and I write poetry. That stuff doesn’t come up at a gig. But it’s a very big part of who I am. My poetry has inspired my songs. So I want you to know about that. I read – a lot. I read everything. I’m an equal opportunity reader. And I want other people to discover authors they may not know about.
I like to write. I like to rant. I like to talk. So I have a blog. I’ve had many over the years, and I’ve turfed probably more than I’ve kept. But when I was going through stuff, writing it down really helped. And I want to share that.
It’s my hope that I can inspire and comfort others. My new CD is about the loss of my dad, my husband’s stroke and cancer, and the overwhelming feelings of life’s challenges. They are difficult subjects, but subjects that are necessary to deal with in some way. This CD also has a limited edition chapbook with selected writings and poetry that inspired the songs. It’s a little like the liner notes of old vinyl. Something about the songs and the processes to bring the listener into the world.
I don’t expect to get rich off this model. I don’t expect thousands of adoring fans. But it’s a model I can manage. I look forward to sharing what is happening in my life. It’s not just about the upcoming gigs. It’s about the whole me. The reader, the poet, the photographer, the musician, the songwriter, the writer and the human being. All of it