An August Retrospective and an almost quarter-life crisis.
This was how it was supposed to go; 18 - 21 years old was the learning phase. I’d finish university then get started on my music career. I’d begin performing around the UK and build a name for myself. A manager would see me and immediately we’d work on my first project. Not being totally naïve, I would recognise that platforms like the BBC wouldn’t take notice - but maybe when I hit 30 - I’d be part of the “underrated musicians” crew. Maybe have a song that could sustain my music career and allow me to continue until I eventually retire. (Insert partner, children, blah blah blah).
Looking back, this is totally foolish of me to think that someone with no resources or contacts within the music industry at 18 would find stability that fast. I learnt that quickly. Because this is how it really works; luck, hard work, can you perform a form of (un)desirability and if you have them - rich parents.
I thought hard work would be my loophole. I started working at 13, trying to write and sing my way out of a bad situation. Growing up watching VH1 Behind the Music, I thought if I put in as much hard work as the artists, I watched then maybe I could escape. Find my people. I never wanted to encounter the likes of a Puff Daddy (for obvious reason) but someone who wasn’t a scammer capitalist could recognise my hard work. I could sustain myself with my music and fulfil that dream.
Perhaps I’m being hard on myself. I probably am hiding sadness because I’m watching opportunities dissipate due to unwillingness to perform in public, unmasked spaces. But a year ago I had a little bit of hope that things would get easier and I could change my circumstances. Now I don't see a way out of it.
I'm nearly at 25 and I'm trying to plan for future releases and project releases. I'm being hopeful but also being realistic (pessimistic?). I am a committed to my art and creativity but I also realise that me being a disabled musician means there are a range of opportunities that aren't open for me. That's okay. But it feels a tiny bit disheartening and funnily enough, it's not about the music industry itself. I know the music industry is a beast, there are examples of that everywhere.
I've written about that this before.
I had an interaction event organisers don’t take a chance on those from marginalised identities because financially it’s not “viable” - but I am now of the belief that it’s not just these event organisers who don’t like taking chances. I've come to the realisation that on all fronts; there are people who are financially motivated. So if you don't seem like a person who's going to make them some form of capital, you're not worth the risk.
Again, I would like to reiterate, I do not want to put my music in the hands of scammers and ultra-capitalists. I’m not gunning for mega fame. Not even BBC Introducing status. It’s just dawned on me there are people that could help and make DIY musicians' lives easier. They have access to the most resources and the contacts that could help build our platforms.
The people that do help are the ones who are in the same boat as me. The ones who are working 9 to 5s or who are trying to sustain themselves in similar fashions. And I have infinite love for them because they are the ones who keep me going. They give me hope that there are people out there who are trying to make a better world for music to be heard. And it's been said before that poor people tend to help each other so there shouldn't be an expectation for others to come and save us.
Still, capitalism shouldn’t shock me but it still does. It requires you to neglect your health in order to produce products. Or to burn yourself out just to jump to the next project. And a refusal of those ideals means the journey becomes uncertain. Although we are currently in the era of uncertainty with COVID, inflation, and war etc. - you can’t plan for the future. You have to find other means for survival.
Online promotion is not easy either. Every video in which I mention my disability gets blocked. And promoting online shows when the world has declared that COVID is officially over is proving to be tougher than I originally anticipated.
Ultimately, I don't have many options at my disposable. I've seen many musicians in my position who have taken an "indefinite" break to prioritise their health. Others have just accepted that catching COVID is the price you have to pay if you want to take this seriously. I'm hovering in the middle; I refuse to succumb to catching COVID because I could lose my ability to sing completely. However, take a break from music isn't where I'm at either. Any plan I try to make for my projects becomes so convoluted. There's not any framework with how to deal with this. Everything is inaccessible. Unprecedented times don't have a guideline.
There is a beauty in this. A diamond in the rough. Not having to conform to industry standards means I can afford a small amount of freedom. Granted, whilst resources are scarce, I don’t have to confine my creative process in order to be compatible with the masses. I don’t have to rely on streaming statistics to know I’ve made a good piece of art. I have the space to explore.
More importantly, I don't have to release a project every 3 months to “look like I’m doing something” or “looking like a professional”. It means I can listen to my body and not cause more harm to it (something I should do way more often).
The solace in this is small but it’s meaningful.
This isn’t new information if you’re familiar with the music industry. You could probably go onto Instagram and find a more concise version of this blog post. Where my frustration lies is I want the narrative to change. The industry heads have never shied away from expressing that there is an element of luck with making music. But please be honest and say that colourism, ableism, capitalism, classism all intersect and are part of why certain people have more access than others.
And privilege is not an air of protection. We’ve seen abusers like Irv Gotti (the CEO of Murder Inc) lament about how he had a relationship with a, then, 18-year-old Ashanti. We know how Mariah was stifled by her ex-husband because she got sick of his abuse. Look at Kelis who is still getting fucked by The Neptunes to this day and is being doxed for standing her ground.
I’m just sick of the lies. And this is not saying “give up”. I’m not giving up. I just want the dialogue to be a bit more honest every time I get recommended for a talk on the “path to career success”. Please just say “do you look rich?” rather than “do you look like a professional?”. Rather than “post every day and you’ll see engagement” say “these algorithms prefer a certain person, mould yourself into that person and you’ll see results”.
(Also, I know some of you have messaged privately. Funding is not an option for many people. When you’re disabled, time is harder to grasp (hence the concept of crip time), therefore to apply for funding isn’t a viable option to me. Additionally, a lot of the funding applications are geared to more “traditional” artists - artists who leave the house. So, thank you to everyone who has suggested it to me but it’s not something I can currently pursue. Unless people are giving out money then gimme, gimme, gimme.)
Just be honest.
Granted, 6 years ago, we didn't see a pandemic coming therefore I understand why some people at a loss. But a little bit of honestly ball those years ago would have gone a long way. I knew at a young age stability (financial and otherwise) wouldn’t be available to me. It's dawning on me that stability might never be within reach. I wish I knew it sooner.
Fortunately, a glimmer of passion and hope keeps me going. I just don't know where to go from here.