University and gigging
Both studying music at university and gigging can be great but they can also be super toxic. I went from one into the other and I had really toxic experiences in both university and in a professional setting. I go to psychoanalysis at the moment and it’s helping me to contextualise those experiences.
Musicians and creative people tend to associate our work with ourselves. If the work isn’t good, then we’re not good. If what we output is not well received, then we take it personally. Almost like, we, as a human being, are not well received. That there is something wrong with who we are, rather than the product (our music/voice/art etc). Of course that’s completely untrue but it’s harder to separate our self and our work because creative expression is such a personal thing that in fact comes from ourselves.
Something that the arts industry does (maybe not intentionally, but just by its product) is that it kinda makes you doubt yourself, it makes you doubt your worth. I am definitely a product of that. For the longest time I doubted my worth in basically every aspect of my life. My lack of “success” in music permeated into other areas of my life until I lost almost all confidence in myself, inside or outside of music.
The industry is pretty cutthroat. Other drummers were my friends but they were also my competition. It’s either you or them who gets the gig so you’re always not really that close with them. The friendship is only ever for professional purposes. You don’t wanna tell them if something good happened to you or if you were speaking with this guy because then maybe if they speak with that same guy then they’d get the gig. There are these undertones. Everyone is aware of it but nobody really talks about it.
As a curator with the Dublin Jazz Co-op I’ve had pretty much a good experience all round. I think the reason is because I don’t make any money from curating. Any money I would make I would give to the band or I would put back into the co-op in some way. I’m not doing it for money. I’m all about trying to promote the exact thing I feel is lacking in the scene. A sense of community and trying to develop culture and craft. I’m not interested in telling musicians, “OK, we need to see a video of you guys playing”. It’s not an interview process. They don’t need to sell anything to me. Instead I’ll say,“You wanna play? Great, we’ll find the next slot available”.
Worst case scenario >>Watch Video>>
I graduated from Jazz college and I was in that competitive mindset and I was trying to get gigs here and there. Nothing really was happening but I was still trying to go for it, then I started teaching. I had the idea (that most of us have) that in order to truly call myself a musician, I needed to make my income solely from that. I was also studying composition part time in the Royal Irish Academy so I was really trying to go all in until my grandfather and my mother got diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
How it started was my grandfather in the US got diagnosed with cancer and my mother was gonna go back and see him. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time. She came to Dublin to see me and she had this lump on her neck. I recommended that she should get it checked and she said, “I can’t deal with this right now. I will get it looked at when I am back from seeing your grandpa”. I called my brother who was picking her up from the airport and told him the situation. When she arrived in the US she got seen to really quickly as the situation was more serious than she thought – they got a biopsy done straight away.
Talk about worst case scenario. She went back to see her father who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and she was then diagnosed with cancer when she arrived. This happened in October. My grandfather died at the end of January and then two months later my mother died. This all happened in 6 months.
Didn’t make sense >>Watch Video>>
Now, looking back, I can see my thought process from that moment, but at the time it was just this mull of confusion over so many things. Trying to get more gigs and trying to get more hours teaching and trying to do this and that but suddenly I didn’t feel like they mattered so much.
I was in a battle with myself. Part of me was saying I should still be trying to work on music but I was struggling financially and I was trying to see my mother in the hospital and trying to go to her treatments. Also, I was trying to apply for a masters in Composition. But It increasingly didn’t make sense. It just made me sit back and think, why am I doing these things? Do I actually want to do them? How do I want to do them?
One thing my mother said to me before she died was “Nothing in life is a sure thing and we operate on trying to secure a future with very unstable future facts. Most importantly, what do you really want to do?” We hear these kinds of things from people all the time, but hearing it from someone who was in the ICU and “hooked up like a fish” (her words) gave it a bit more impact. I realized that I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do, only what I thought I should want to do.
I started to streamline what I wanted from music. Music is always gonna be there, I’m just learning how I want to do music. That’s my statement for 2022. The question is not “If”, but “How?”. It’s not if I want to do music or if I wanna be a curator, it’s how I want to do those things. How much do I wanna put myself out? How many things do I wanna give up? Because I think as creative people we forgo a lot of stuff for creative art.
Artists give 100% of their time to their craft. You don’t have to. There are other ways of approaching it. And just because you approach it from a different angle does not make you any less of a creative person. The merit of creativity is not in how often you do it, only that you do it. Simply the act of being creative is enough.
Computer programming >>Watch Video>>
I took a course in computer programming and I was starting from zero basically. At the beginning of that course I was so confused, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. At the end of the lectures my questions were something along the lines of “What just happened? Or “ Could you do the whole thing again please?”.That being said, I still managed to finish the course with a first class honours so this year was really intense. I am grateful I had this opportunity to pursue something else and let other aspects of my personality take the stage for a while.
It’s going great now but two months ago it was very different. I was very uncertain with how everything would fall into place, or if it would all fall apart. But now I know it’s going to be much better, I got a new job working in tech support.
It was only in retrospect that I realised from psychoanalysis that I was in a toxic relationship with music. I was chasing that unattainable perfection that you can’t really get. The feeling was always “you can do better than that”. I don’t think anyone (including myself) ever told me “You are enough right now”. Now that I’m aware of that, my relationship with music is so much healthier.
I’m not actually looking for perfection, I’m just actually looking for joy. I think people get lost on that path, they start out because they love it, but they end up on the path to unattainable perfection. They don’t stop and look at whether they’re really actually enjoying themselves.
Rewarding >>Watch Video>>
When I was asked to get involved in the co-op, I was studying contemporary classical composition in the Academy and I was seeing this link between contemporary classical music and jazz. I wanted to do a curation that was mixing those styles and bringing people that maybe wouldn’t know so much about jazz into a place where they would hear jazz and vice versa. I did a concert where some friends of mine played both kinds of music in the same concert and that got a lot of great feedback. Cormac Larkin in the Irish Times wrote a really great piece on it and that was really gratifying.
A lot of times creative people feel like their ideas are crazy and/or stupid and nobody’s gonna like them. They’ll either hesitate or they won’t really go through with the idea for loads of reasons. Like maybe they don’t have the money, they can’t find a willing venue, or willing musicians/collaborators etc. But I went for that original curation idea because it was the co-op and there was no money attached. I just felt like, “OK, this is an area where maybe it doesn’t matter if my ideas are crazy or not”. As it turned out, I was good at curating and more importantly, I enjoyed it.
I found a lot of acts, people that I knew in the Academy, and elevated them more into a public eye. I found that very rewarding in itself because I got to see them play and also I was finally in a position where I could help them in some way. That was and still is the great thing about the co-op.
Dublin Jazz Co-op >>Watch Video>>
The hardest thing to find in Dublin is a venue. Then when you finally get the venue there are all these prerequisites – you have to make this amount of money and this amount of people have to show up, etc. But at the co-op there’s no bullshit. If you wanna play, we’ll get you to play. If you have a project that you can’t find a venue for, come to us.
It’s fine if you don’t have an audience, it’s not about the money, nobody’s making any money here. We’re just here to support local and sometimes international musicians. For example, someone overseas might get in touch and say, “We’re doing a tour and we need a date in Dublin but we don’t know anyone in Dublin.” I’ll say, “OK, great, play at the co-op.” Now I’m not the only curator and different curators have different ways of doing things but when I’m curating at the co-op that is my approach.
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish creative industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.