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Soup or Sound (aka, the Diva Complex)

Although I was not asked a question relating to the following, a recurring theme came up in several conversations while at the NAMM show last week. I’d like to say first that I had no bad experiences with anyone while hanging at the show. I did hear some fans talk of a few negative experiences they had when approaching their heroes however. This got me thinking… maybe I was having interactions that were a lot different than some of the “big name” players have with people who they didn’t know.

As some of you already know, NAMM is one of the major musician hangs of the year. You have everyone who makes the gear, plays the gear, buys the gear for the stores and many who just admire the whole scene… all hanging out in a huge convention center in Anaheim, CA. I absolutely love the hang and love hearing some of my favorite musicians jam. I especially love the conversations I have with my peers and heroes.

However, there are always a few who seem to think that, in order to be taken seriously and perceived as having “made it”, they have to carry themselves a certain way. Basically, they vibe people and only give attention to those who can do something for them or are at least on an equal playing ground with regard to recognition.

I don’t care to waste much time complaining about anything. I judge people by the quality of their character and, if I’m not enjoying someone’s energy or they’re rubbing me in the wrong way, I simply turn off and put my attention elsewhere. That’s their business and it’s my choice whether or not to take part in their thing.

This did, however, remind me of an old rule of thumb I once heard with regard to touring musicians and how to treat the people around you and I thought it was worth sharing.

The way it was told to me was this: “Never give a hard time to those who deal with your sound, food or hotel room”.

Essentially, be kind and courteous to those who have control over your happiness in one way or another.

It’s a nice rule of thumb, but I prefer to take it much further and include everyone in the equation.

The saying is more in reference to certain situations you find yourself in while traveling as a musician. There will be times when a customs agent seems to have singled you out or the front desk clerk is being unhelpful or the sound guy is having a bad day. It is important in these instances, when you don’t have a choice of who is actually in control (or even perceives themselves to be in control) to really bite your tongue and keep calm and speak with a smile and with levity. You really do get more of the outcome you hope for with kindness and understanding of the others situation than you do stomping your feet and declaring your superiority.

But I’d encourage all of you to try and employ the philosophy of kindness, empathy and intentionality to all who cross your path. Whether you are playing stadiums or dive bars, those who appreciate your art are some of the most important people you can meet. Respond to their love, adoration or respect with honest-to-goodness attention, and give them your full attention. Even if it’s only for a minute or two before you have to split.

I can’t tell you how many people I heard at the show talk about being disappointed after meeting a hero of theirs only to discover that the person would blow them off, maybe take a picture but with a half-hearted lack of attention or wouldn’t even acknowledge them. Aside from the obvious side effect of losing fans and respect, the reality is that you actually hurt someone’s feelings by telling them in your own way that you feel that you are more important than them and they are of a lower class somehow.

From my perspective, the fan is a member of your family and you should be thankful for anyone who gives you a moment of their precious time to listen to your music, spend hard earned money on your music or go out of their way to tell you that they appreciate you.

Be humble people! There is always someone who is not as good, just as good, and better than you at what you do. And even if you are the best at what you do, who cares? We are all people and we all have talents with regard to something and we’re all doing the best that we can. Focus less on perceiving music as a competition and enjoy the community of it all. The musical community is so full of mutual respect and love for one another if you are open to playing a part.

If you feel the need to compete and dominate everyone in some way, the chances are that you will:

  1. Be replaced by someone cooler to work with and hang with, by those who hire you
  2. Lose the respect of your peers and fans
  3. Wind up a bitter, lonely and unhappy (awesome) musician

Who cares about the “awesome” part? That, to me, seems the least important aspect of it all. Do your thing and be who you are. Don’t front or vibe people… be cool.

If you’re a natural born jerk, then go with it, I guess. I think we all have a choice.

Be cool and embrace this wonderful community of musicians and music lovers.

Have a question for Damian? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books at the No Treble Shop.

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Share your thoughts

Joel Ciulla

Joel Ciulla

Damian, this is a great subject to bring up! ALL of us need to be humble, thankful and grateful for ANY compliment anyone wants to give us. There is a fine line between COOL & COLD. Very nice article!!
Joel Ciulla

Uriah

Wow- I thought this was an old topic- old and dead! I thought being the asshole musician was really a thing of the past. Just about anyone I’d wanted to meet has been kind, humble and willing to take the time to say hi either to me or others around. Either I had a completely different experience at NAMM, or my mind has chosen what and what not to pay attention to when it comes to vibes (& a happy little naive bubble, it is).

Also, some of it is just being so close to LA. I’ve tried it 3 times and can’t do it just for the reason that the percentage of folks that will step on you is higher than anywhere else. Most people actually move there to get ahead, so it’s “the way” by default. Conversely, If you live in the Bay Area, you know that 9 out of 10 people here will invite you to their house for dinner no matter who you are!

I felt I had to post here because this topic is important to me and I really have found quite the opposite experience. Again, it may be years of navigating such social waters, choosing to only gravitate towards love, and away from arrogance. Personally, I strive to set a standard to remind folks that we’re all the same people on earth. I do this by deliberately breaking down any Rock Star/Fan barriers, which let’s people know that I’m no better than anyone else (the Japanese don’t like this, preferring the star/fan relationship, but that’s another story). I’ve found myself headlining to 20… sometimes 80,000 people, yet I’ll still be out front before the show, buying concession (pricy) beers with newly met friends when they could be had backstage for free. I’ve changed a flat tire in Italy on the car of a festival runner who came to pick me up but didn’t know squat about cars. I’ve given $5 to a girl in line at my own show that barley had enough for the cover (and was about to go home). I’ll talk with anyone about bass and anything, as I believe all people are good. And if that’s not humble enough, I usually sleep in my car at NAMM, no joke, and my choice. Perhaps I go overboard to compensate for those still out there that have to flex their status to everyone- the types that perhaps you repeatedly have the misfortune of running into/overhearing.
Oh… and there are others like this… Ronnie James Dio comes to mind first and foremost. He could be found jovially holding court with fans in a park in Buenos Aries during his morning coffee walk, while the tour manager is yelling about the tour bus leaving immediately.
I can’t not mention our little bass playing community- chock full of really nice blokes that can play their asses off and are always willing to share/hang etc… I love you guys (You included DE)!

I guess the cream rises to the top, and for the most part no one really wants to work with an asshole. I do understand that the more popular the player, the more compromised their time can be so I don’t interpret their inability to spend time with me as a negative thing. But for those out there that feel they must show a pompous or arrogant side to feel better about themselves… just let ’em. I’ll be having a beer with the real friends.

Who knows? Maybe I’m the arrogant one for preaching kindness.
-Uriah

Damian Erskine (Author)

I agree Uriah! I just wanted to make sure that you noticed that I mention that I had far from that experience. I did have some other people mention feeling frustrated by experiencing that stuff. I think maybe it’s different for you & I as many in the bass community know us. I experienced nothing but live & was saddened to hear others express a different experience.

On Dio. A good friend of mine was one of his biggest fans & was invited (& attended) his funeral by his family. It’s lovely to see that kind of live for the community. So cool!

Much love to all!! ;)

Damian Erskine (Author)

& my iPhone keeps changing “love” to ‘live’

Sorry for the typos

CJ

CJ

A friend posted a link to this article on Facebook stating, “This is great advice for everyone, not just superstars!” And she was completely correct. I’m not a musician… well.. oh never mind… it would take to long to explain… I am, however, heavily involved in the dance community and personally know Pros who are “Divas” and those who are completely “Down to Earth” and very friendly. And some of the “Divas” just don’t seem to understand why some of the Pros who are less well known are more successful. HELLO!!! Didn’t you’re mama ever teach you the Golden Rule? That’s basically what it boils down to.

Thanks for writing this! I’ll be passing it on.

Vanja James

While I do agree that its important to be nice to everyone and be gracious to your fans, I’m really hoping a new wave of acceptance will come along for those of us who are DIY artists.

What was once left to a team of graphic/web/marketing folk and booking agents is now left sometimes to the musician and only the musician – I’m one person taking on the job of five people.

This is a tiring process, and sometimes its more tiring to not have a safe zone or a buffer between you and people who really like your work.

I hope non-musicians and fans of indie music can be appreciative of how hard indies are working and won’t be offended that we’re human too.

Although this doesn’t really do anything for musicians who don’t fit in this category, that’s my take on it.

VJ