On the third night of this music industry conference, at around 3 am, my legs felt like they were starting to burn, a sensation I am not unfamiliar with when I am under stress and fatigued. I was also having severe menstrual cramps and a bad reaction to the Advil I took for them, (this happens once a month on the road; you just kinda roll with it, with some extra moaning), and when I finally collapsed into my bed I did not fall asleep. The many thoughts, exchanges and events of the day played before me as the night view of Kansas City, Missouri sprawled outside my 28th floor hotel window.
The hallways of the hotel were swarming with conference attendees wearing name-tags, red for artists, orange for industry, green for presenters, yellow for media etc., which meant we all looked each other up and down as we walked past, because you might know who they are, or they might know who you are, or you might benefit from knowing them. That is the nature of a networking conference. Are you useful for someone’s career advancement, and is someone useful to yours?
Let me tell you, it is a special kind of exhausting to be walking through hallways both looking and being looked at that way. Eyes and hearts hungry for success, competing for attention in three floors of a hotel, a performance going on in each room, people walking in and out to both enjoy and evaluate, I’m not sure in which order.
There are friends at this conference too, friends you haven’t seen in ages, from different places across the continent, from other continents, hugs and smiles and instruments everywhere, people in costumes including no-costume, which is still a costume, a giant range of go-get’ership, starting at enough to be attending the conference, you walk around both thrilled, scared and lost until you’re found in your own grounded identity, if you have one, to be lost and found again every few minutes, with each wave of people like twigs in a river of musicians flowing in all directions down hallways littered with posters and flyers and hand-bills and business cards. It is a circus of a spectacle. And it is hyper-focused and sleep-deprived and you know you are missing out on potential opportunities in every room you are not in. Your years of music business internet-research-and-outreach- overwhelm have come to life in the noisy form of flesh. And you’d better be leaving with something because it’s cost way too much money to get here and because your soul-work is on the line.
That day I had eaten lunch with a friend and talked about literary grants, had a fifteen-minute power-meeting with a marketing and development agency, gone to see four hours worth of twenty-minute sets, knowing that even in the audience, I was in my professional shell, authentically enjoying and evaluating, but self-aware that here too, I am seen.
And by the time the night showcases were done, which included my own performances, three or four songs self-selected in the hope of hopes that they are amazingly compelling enough to be of interest to anyone walking in from the hundreds of other songs delivered in the hundreds of other rooms.
No wonder I was exhausted.
This is *so* America. I thought, cowering crampy in leg-pain in my bed. This is disgusting.
There had been another school shooting over these days and we were running around trying to be noticed in the hopes of making our music careers feasible, viable, and maybe even good. Fair enough, but in context of big world matters, it made me feel a little queasy.
I can’t help that I’ve been cynical about this machine. It is the only way to not develop delusional hopes. It is the only way to stay true to the original point of music-making, which contrary to many people’s take on it, is not about fame or riches.
But that is also why I am also totally not. Cynical, that is. Fatigue and body pain may highlight the dark side that lurks, but I never lose sight of the light.
Because I am totally blown away that 2500 delegates at this conference, hungry for their piece of survival or triumph as they may be, are 2500 human beings WHO HAVE NOT GIVEN UP ON MUSIC, and as a friend aptly pointed out when I said this to him, 2500 people WHOM MUSIC HAS NOT GIVEN UP ON. To see the frenzy was also to be reminded of this and moved by it.
Being one in 2500 people in a hotel that was on musical fire was, in fact, the OPPOSITE of alienating, was the OPPOSITE of depressing, it was supercharging, pride-inducing, fun-as-fuck, WE ARE MUSIC emanating from all of us, individually and collectively. It was triumphant. Music and its importance was everybody’s common language and it was loud.
And, yeah, I already knew we’re out there. I see your posters at the same venues I play at, I see your social media posts, us thousands of hard-working road-slogging musicians chugging away for not enough pay because we are stubborn and insistent upon the value of what we do and will do it come hell or high water. But to be under one roof for four days is a pretty powerful reminder that we’re pretty mighty, and the rather glorious feeling of belonging to this category of people is something I am taking away from Kansas City this year, (and took away last year).
There are two particular, specific highlights for me.
Today, in the only explicitly creative aspect of the conference, (which is otherwise performance and business), at something called “Songwriter’s Breakfast,” I witnessed about twenty people performing a song they had written during the four days of the conference, based on a prompt they pulled from a jar at the information booth in the hotel lobby. Like last year, I participated as well (and will share the song with you eventually, I got one hell of a prompt). Witnessing the creative capacity, the human miracle of interacting with meaning, bringing the personal and seeking the universal – it is and was an incredible, important and moving thing.
I also had the fortune of meeting an incredibly talented musician here. We were on the same flight arriving in Kansas. A decade younger than me, authentic as they come, songs as pure as gold, real, true, no bullshit, scruffy and transcendent. It was his first time at this conference (my second). We chatted a bit over the days, and talked about life, found much in common, and when he confided in me about some about his anxieties, I shared a tiny piece of insight from mine.
Tonight, I received a message from him that said:
“Orit. I️ just want to thank you for taking some time to talk to me. It meant a lot. I’ve been struggling with some stuff and the things you said really opened something up inside me. We go to these things with different expectations. But I had no idea a 15 minute conversation would impact me so much on this trip. Thank you so much.”
Folks, I mean it when I say that if I don’t get a single gig from this whole conference, I will, for this one message, be eternally glad that I came here.
Music is what brings me here, to the heart of connection. My songs have taken me far and wide and it is these conversations that make it all matter to me as much as it does. It’s what’s kept me on the road. Music is the vehicle I’ve traveled in to meet other hearts. Music is more than music. Music generates conversation.
And this is America too – in the metaphorical, song-idiom sense. This is humanity. We are all the ugly ego wanting to thrive among all the other ego reeds, but, we should certainly remember that we still have the power to connect deeply and creatively, authentically and profoundly, and I’ll make note of every time I get reminded.
May we all keep on singing our songs, musicians or not.