Being an Artist is a delicate dance between knowing what your ‘voice’ is currently and helping your voice evolve over time based on your personal life experiences, your audience, and the collaboration and feedback of those whom you trust.
For the first two (life experiences and audience involvement), an artist often has self-awareness and still maintains a fair amount of self-guidance. For instance, “My fans seem to enjoy the new music influenced by my recent travels so I’m going to keep writing more of that for a while.”
The latter part, however, the part of collaboration and feedback influencing an artist’s voice, is harder to gauge in the moment and can often times send ripples in the artist’s style that seem small now but, in retrospect, were actually quite large. So how does an artist keep the finger on the pulse of not only one’s own trajectory but also the inputs, opinions, and insights that could influence one’s trajectory? How does one take what one needs and allow other suggestions to melt away? How does one guide the conversation in order to best suit one’s ultimate vision?
Below, Jordan offers a candid view into the back-and-forth he had with himself minutes after a transaction that demanded he ask himself these same questions. (It reads as a bit more of a Platonic conversation than a How-To so put on your thinking caps and get ready.)
ABOUT THREE YEARS ago, I bought my new violin, my baby. She was built in the cool climates of Vermont but then very early on in her life relocated to Florida with higher temperatures and much higher humidity levels. Needless to say, the acoustics changed drastically as the wood adjusted to its new environment. The wood had expanded in some places, which left other places not as secure or resonant. Not to mention, my heavy playing style had probably loosened some things up over the 3 years I’d owned the violin, as well. It was getting to the point where I just felt like it wasn’t the instrument, the tone, that I had fallen in love with. I knew what I had bought, I knew what I had invested my money and time in, and this version in front of me now is only a shadow of that.
It is time for her to get some work done.
But now my ears have grown accustomed to the sound that I’ve been living with for the past couple years. It was one thing when I first bought it (and I have a vivid memory of that) but I’ve now been brainwashed, to a degree, as the tone has adjusted very gradually over time. It would be much easier to recall if their had been a drastic shift all at once.
I take her to the violin shop and explain my issues to them. They offer to take a look. I try to explain my style, why I fell in love with the violin in the first place. And I leave her with them for the day.
The next day, I go back in and they have done some pretty heavy adjustments (which we agreed upon in advance)… they have not only moved the sound post around but they have also given me a new bridge, a new pick up, and they have done some work on the nut to make sure the action still feels right… All major factors in the tone of an instrument.
The first time I draw the bow across the strings, I feel that warmth and resonance that I had lost. It has a dark, smooth creaminess and the action is lower so it feels a little bit easier and sexier to play. But that warmth has also adjusted the highs. It no longer has that bark and growl but I’ve come to rely on as a bluegrass and rock musician. It now is more reminiscent of a classical violin that is meant to blend in with an orchestra rather than lead a jam session.
It’s silly… I start to wonder if I made the right decision, if this process can be remedied. And, on the flip side, I start to doubt my own ear… Does it maybe sound better than it ever has? Is this what the violin is actually supposed to sound like? This sound I’m hearing now is certainly not the sound that I fell in love with in the first place… Or is it?
IT’S ONE OF the hardest things in the world for me to let go of the vision I have sometimes and to trust the inputs that others contribute. But the spirit of collaboration and shared professional knowledge is what allows us to continue to grow as artists. I know from talking to the people in the violin store and from playing their instruments that they do know what they’re talking about and they have years of experience with this so who am I to question the work that they put into this and to doubt to their ability to bring my violin to its greatest potential?
Well, I am the artist. And I am protecting my voice, my brand by being in touch with what my instrument should sound like and being true to that. A guitarist would not just swap out a pedal without serious examination and consideration. It is my responsibility to convey my sound and my style in clear enough terms so that the professionals with whom I am collaborating can help me fully realize that.
But… what if those professionals have an idea they want to offer that will improve my sound in ways that I had not yet considered? They have the benefit of being a fresh audience and making decisions based on only the facts that they have in front of them. They don’t know my history, they don’t know what I should sound like, they just know that they have a job to do and they are going to do it to the best of their abilities.
So where does this put me? I now have a violin that I either need to get tweaked again immediately and continue the collaboration or I need to live with it long enough to let my ear adjust before I decide on the whether or not the change is beneficial to me. Change is hard on any human being… any creature with ego and self-awareness. We get used to one way of doing something and any little hiccup in our process can sometimes lead us to question the whole process.
I know my own trajectory and that will involve personal change over time but that is change that I can anticipate. When the change is coming from an outside point of view, there is a shorter window of opportunity to assess, react, and either implement or ignore the change. It comes down to your artistic instincts to immediately form an opinion. After that, it’s up to you to decide if you will actively pursue the opinion and tailor it to fit your needs or if you will document the opinion but then ultimately ignore it as you continue down your own self-driven path.
In A Nutshell
As artists, we are own best supporters and our own worst enemies. We know our personal vision better than anybody else. It is an extension of who we are as individuals and that inherently allows us to trust our instincts in order to respond impulsively and passionately. But we also must be open and willing and asking for the feedback and help of others around us… Both from professionals who can offer the academic and experiential points of view, and also from our close acquaintances for whom we have a great deal of respect and trust in their personal opinions. It is our job to then take all of this feedback and sift through it to put into place those that will be most beneficial to us as Artists. I don’t think there is a way to be taught this delicate dance, it must come as an extension of your self-awareness. Continue to create, grow, and collaborate, and your brand will continue to define itself.
Dear Reader: When was a time that you reached out to others and then were left wondering if you made the right decision? How did you approach it?