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A Way Too Convoluted Wish for 2020

Here’s a little thought for 2020 that leapt into my brain during too much travel running up to the holidays. My mind ventured into a weird place, and that strange joint was cooking up a stew of competition, achievement, and the lambasting of other players that are deemed “less than” oneself.

Now, I know that many guitarists do not take part in taking apart other players in the community, but I couldn’t let go of my stream-of-consciousness journey. It wasn’t a happy trip. It was likely a wrong-headed exercise. But I soldiered on anyway.

So here it is…

Very very very few musicians are talented, lucky, ambitious, ruthless, giving, and savvy enough to truly command a HUGE PRESENCE. These titans sell millions of records/downloads/streams and often perform in massive venues populated with tens of thousands of fans. They affect entertainment culture. It’s incredible.

A long way further down the success ladder are what I would still define as equally fabulous players who aren’t superstars, but can still etch out a decent living by purely writing and performing music. These people are warriors, as well, and they seduce enough of an audience to maintain the celebrity, content production, and revenue streams to keep them from working everyday jobs.

The rest of us? Well, we are not those people.

Some of us create and write for fun and entertainment. Some play local, regional, or even national gigs that are cool, but not enough to pay the bills. Some never get out of the crap bars. Hardly any of these musicians engage the large audiences needed to sell significant music or merch.

Typically, the expense to do what they do far exceeds the income that what they do actually generates. In fact—using a Marvel Comics example—Thanos could snap his fingers and vaporize every guitarist who wasn’t a superstar or a living-wage earner, and the community of music consumers might not even notice for quite a spell. (Well, unless your family and friends compromised most of your less-than-mammoth fan base and started wondering why you weren’t showing up for dinner.)

The point here is that a colossal population of “not superstar/not living wage earning” guitarists are in the same boat, so to speak.

No one is significantly pummeling another player with massive amounts of success they can lord over someone. Let’s look at the old “pyramid” graphic that marketing people use from time to time: The microscopic triangle at the top are the superstars, the slight larger section below it are the living-wage earners, and the extremely large section below THAT is everyone else. Welcome to the jungle!

Now, here’s the part to ponder…

If we who all-together populate the foot of the pyramid are basically churning in the same business marketplace of, um, [1] losing money, breaking even, or not consistently bringing in profits, [2] playing much the same venues that aren’t regularly arenas, theaters, or high-end clubs, [3] not owning a massive presence in the celebrity and audience slipstream, and [4] not inspiring, in a major way, the next generation of creators, THEN WHY DO SOME OF OUR CO-CONSPIRATORS IN THE BUSINESS OF NOT BEING SUCCESSFUL CRITICIZE THEIR COHORTS IN THE SAME PETRI DISH?

It’s kinda nutty. In a marketplace of varying degrees of failure, does it really matter if one player is faster than another, or has a better guitar tone, or owns hipper equipment, or writes “better” songs, or whose band is tighter, and so on?

Aren’t all of these elements simply “ego rationalizations” that hide from the matter at hand, that, as CEOs of our own musical empires, we are pretty freaking hopeless?

I mean, a super-fast player who supposedly writes awesome songs and who occasionally performs at a fabulous theater is, in essence, not winning the business battle anymore decisively than a player who tends to make a lot of musical mistakes and has crappy tone, but is very entertaining.

PLEASE: I’m not flying the flag for mediocrity here, or saying that someone who chooses not to practice and embraces sloppiness is a person that should be celebrated.

I am merely saying — admittedly with a lot of babble — that one should seriously consider which community they are in, before they get all egotistical and downright mean and incredibly unsupportive to the people who are standing right next to them.

We at the bottom of the pyramid should enjoy what we do, immerse ourselves in trying to create art that is true for each one of us, and, where we can, help our brothers and sisters who may have a chance to crawl up to the next level of the pyramid.

Pissing all over other musicians in our “play space,” once again, is like battling to be the last rat on a sinking ship. You may drown last, but you’re still going to drown. Does THAT make you happy about yourself?

Instead, maybe we could try lifting each other UP in 2020…

Author: Michael Molenda

Founder of Guardians of Guitar. Longest-serving Editor in Chief of GUITAR PLAYER (1997-2018). Long live Link Wray and Mick Ronson!


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