A couple of my friends, Brian Christian Adam (BCA) and Zachary “Sonny” Edwards host an open mic every Sunday night at O’Neill’s Pub in Lombard, IL. I’ve been meaning to get there for a while and I had the weekend off, so I stopped by for the first time this past Sunday.
This was an opportunity to hang out with incredibly talented, warm, wonderful people who love music as much as I do. I saw folks I’ve known for years and met new people. There was spontaneous collaboration and just about every set turned into an impromptu jam session. I wish I would have made it out sooner, and I’ll definitely be going back.
I did a lot of open mics and songwriter showcases when I was younger. Those events are incredibly useful for someone who is trying to get out and get a hang of being on stage. Performing live is, in and of itself, a skill that takes practice, and any experience you get standing in front of an audience will make you that much better the next time you do it.
In the years since, gigging and stressful day jobs have made me protective of nights off, so I haven’t really been getting out to open mics as often. Lately, however, I’m trying to get back in the habit. I feel a pull towards the community of it. Being around people who love making music inspires me.
My wife, Lara, and I have been talking quite a bit recently about the importance of community in general. It’s not something we specifically discuss in the context of music, but it certainly applies. Homo sapiens aren’t built to go it alone, and I’m recognizing and respecting my instinctual need to seek out a village, despite my knee-jerk tendency to avoid it. I’m an introvert (INFJ-T for those keeping score at home), so getting out in a social setting takes some work for me. Conversely, playing a show is no big deal. It never really has been. I love being on stage regardless of how many people are in the room, and when I’m there I’m comfortable and confident. Being around a lot of people when I’m not performing, though, is an entirely different animal for me.
I can talk to all of you, but I can’t talk to any of you.Jerry Seinfeld
Open mics end up being more of a social setting as compared to other gigs, since, at an open mic, I can’t exactly hide behind the mic for three hours. Still, though, I’ve been making an effort, and it’s paying off. Every experience reinforces the fact that being around people who love making (or listening to) music is good for me, and I need to open myself up to that more often.
We moved to Aurora about four years ago, but I’ve lived in the western suburbs for most of my adult life. The music scene in the Greater-Chicagoland area is outstanding, but I can’t say enough about the scene here in the Fox Valley, specifically. There are so many incredibly talented people and top-notch venues. The most striking thing, though, is how supportive and welcoming everyone is.
The music business can get competitive. I’ve known musicians who would refuse to help or support anyone who they viewed as direct competition, and I’ve known musicians who would be more than willing to climb over someone else to further themselves. I’ve also known some sketchy promoters and shady venues.
That said, the vast majority of people I’ve encountered in this scene are wonderful. Artists want to collaborate and split bills. If you have a release, they help spread the word. If you have a show and they’re off, they’ll show up. Venues are sanctuaries for local, original music. They encourage artists to play whatever inspires them, rather than insisting on a three-hour all-cover set (I intend to get more specific about all of this in later posts, including spotlighting some of those incredible artists and venues). I am fortunate to be a part of this community, and I treasure the relationships I’ve built with other artists and the folks at the local venues.
Community matters. When we’re surrounded by positivity and support, we flourish. When a new person is welcomed, they flourish. When we moved to Aurora, we were immediately welcomed into the community. We felt like we belonged there, and I’m not specifically talking about the music scene. That feeling of acceptance makes a person want to dive in and contribute, and be equally welcoming to those that come later.
It’s important to surround yourself with people who accept and support you. Lara has said to me many times that having friends who are there to lift you up, have your back, and point out the good things they see in you can drown out negative self-talk. I regularly find myself spiraling into the abyss of believing every bad thing I think about myself, and, since I’m an introvert, I’m often spiraling all on my own. I’m hard on me, which makes me depressed, which makes me harder on myself, lather, rinse, repeat.
When I’m with my friends, my community, they can pull me out of that cycle. That’s a powerful and necessary thing. A lot of my negative self-talk has to do with how I see myself as a musician: imposter syndrome, irrelevance, I’m not good enough to play that venue, and so on. Hanging out with fellow musicians and hearing, from them, how they feel about me, helps to calm that storm. It’s invaluable.
Being an artist is a tricky thing. You’re creating something intimate and personal, then displaying it for the world to see. It’s complete emotional vulnerability. If you start to feel like your work, this deeply personal thing that feels like an extension of you as a person, isn’t good enough, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you aren’t good enough.
However, when your scene is full of loving, supportive people, and you let yourself be a part of it (that’s me talking to myself), you can mitigate those feelings of inadequacy. I need to be around people who are louder than the voices in my head, probably more often than I think I do. They lift me back up.
We, as artists, are better off when we support one another. If you put out positivity in the form of kindness and support, you get it back, and, beyond that, it inspires others to do the same. When the community operates that way, everyone benefits.
I’ve seen this firsthand, and it doesn’t just apply to the music community. I play a lot of local breweries and I’ve become friends with the owners, managers, and beertenders, and our local brewery scene is just as warm and supporting as the music scene. Many of our local breweries encourage one another, work together on collaborations, and patronize one another’s establishments. It makes the scene healthier, and when the scene is healthy, everybody wins.
I don’t like the idea of music, or art in general, as competition, but it is often framed that way and The Voice and American Idol have done a bang-up job perpetuating that view. Ultimately, people do have a choice of what to listen to and where to spend their Saturday night, but the fact is, at least around here, there are no shortage of venues willing to book local artists. There’s room for all of us. There’s an audience for all of us. We don’t need to stab each other in the back to be successful. I’d argue backstabbing makes everybody less successful. If all we do is tear one another down, what’s left?
I hope that, artist or not (although, honestly, everybody is an artist), you currently have or are, ultimately, able to find a supportive community. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who genuinely want to see you succeed means everything. If you’ve got a community like that, I’d love to hear about it. Give it a shout-out in the comments. If you don’t have a community like that, you’re welcome in mine.
Community, at its best, is the antidote to partisanship. Like you, I’ve seen this at work. The desire to build up overtakes the desire to tear down. This piece is a good riff on that theme. Nice bit of writing, mate.
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Thanks, my friend.