Never Resent Other People’s Success

It’s easy to say, isn’t it, but oh so very hard to do: whatever else you do in the music business, never get into the habit of resenting other people’s success.

I had an absolutely awful temper as a kid.  I don’t think anyone I currently know has ever really seen me lose it, because it doesn’t really happen these days.  But I went through a couple of years of getting into fights, shouting at referees, smashing up things in frustration, and just generally giving too much vent to my feelings.

Eventually I got myself sent off in a cup semi-final and banned from the final.  At that point – the wise old age of about fourteen – I decided something had to change, and it did.  Now I don’t really lose my temper.  The rage still boils away somewhere down there, but it is so suppressed that I barely even register it anymore.  The same is true of competitive jealousy.

It’s really, really tough when you’re involved in something like music, which is so very subjective, to not gaze on in disgust when someone you think isn’t really all that good starts to achieve anything and think ‘what the fuck is wrong with these people?’ and ‘how dare they like Bad Fun?’ and so on and so forth.

I’ve seen it surrounding the T-Break Heats, I saw it on that embarrassing post complaining about anti-folk a few months ago, and I personally feel it every single time a label or blog or band with which I am not associated gets any sort of plaudits whatsoever.  Anything.  Even when the band in question are my friends I feel a little twang of ‘well hey, what about our bands?’

Basically, I can be a very ungracious, unpleasant, competitive little shit.  But I am not alone.  For a huge number of people in music the success of others comes as a personal affront, as if other people have somehow robbed them of something that should rightfully be theirs. I feel this too, but like my childhood temper, I have learned to bury it very, very deep, to the extent that most of the time I just don’t even notice it anymore because, basically, it is pointless and it gets in your way.  And no-one likes a whinger either.

The enjoyment of music is not something people run out of, remember.  So just because someone likes some crap band or other doesn’t mean that that there is more or less chance of them liking yours. And, even more importantly, no matter how much you hate another successful band from your area, anyone being successful is actually good for you. That way Scotland (or Edinburgh, or Idaho or wherever) becomes known as a place for good music and fans, DJs, labels and writers start looking there more than usual, which is good for everyone.  I’m sure loads of people in Portland hate the Decemberists, but their emergence was good for the city as a whole, whatever you think of the band themselves.

Even before I started the label I knew full well that the success of other small labels in Scotland, be it Fence or Chemikal, Olive Grove or Armellodie, was good for Song, by Toad Records as it built the reputation of the whole country as an incubator of talent and a place to look for exciting grass-roots projects.

And then Armellodie did better getting the Scottish Enlightenment on the radio than I did with Yusuf Azak, and then Olive Grove got The Son(s) in Drowned in Sound whereas Inspector Tapehead got bugger all, and that rage started boiling away again, and I had to slap myself around the face and remind myself that Steve Lamacq choosing to play Mitchell Museum and not The Savings and Loan is almost certainly not him choosing to play them instead of The Savings and Loan.  People tend to judge things on their own merits – they probably just have different criteria than you.

Even in situations which are directly competitive, such as the T-Break Heats, whatever your darkest thoughts, whinging about it only achieves one thing: making you look bad. In any case, it’s probably misplaced.  There was a rather amusing piece of self-justification published on Radar afterwards, and I think it rather missed the point.

It’s not, in my opinion, a very good list of finalists.  But then, it was selected by committee, so of course it’s a bit shit.  Never at any time in the history of Western thought has anything been made better by the involvement of a committee.  By definition they will make things less interesting and more predictable, because whatever their personal opinions, they still have to agree amongst themselves. Most of them were probably just pleased to get the one or two bands they really did care about on list, and were happy to let a lot of the rest of it slide.

And of course some bands have an advantage because of who they know.  And of course there are biases involved.  This is a human business. But I will eat my hat if there were any conspiracies, because it just doesn’t work like that.  The judges just have different criteria than you.  Take your pals who you agree with the most about music and see how divergent your ‘most promising bands of 2011’ lists end up being and you’ll get an idea.

You also have to bear the audience in mind. Why was Jason from The Pop Cop on that T Break panel and not me (grr, burning rage and resentment!) Well before I get into churlish bickering about quality and taste, look at the festival in question.  Who writes more about T in the Park-friendly bands, Song, by Toad or the Pop Cop?  The answer is obvious, and suddenly my jealousy looks a bit silly. [edit: whoops, it was GoNorth, not T-Break, but that doesn’t matter much in terms of the point, I don’t think]

It’s a bit like me sulking about none of our bands being covered in the NME.  I think the NME is awful, so why would I expect them to think anything else of the music we release?  Other people at our level do get covered though, and I invariably feel a pang of rage until I remind myself of the fact that an honest promo letter from Song, by Toad Records to the NME would read something like this: “Dear NME, I have no respect whatsoever for your publication, which is basically just Heat magazine for music, however I do acknowledge that it would be financially advantageous for you to feature our bands on your pages, and I therefore enclose…”

It’s really easy to become resentful about other people appealing to a different audience to yours, but you have to remind yourself that if they are that different an audience then they were never likely to be into your stuff anyway.  If you want to appeal to that audience you probably have to do things differently, and would you really, honestly want to make or release different music to the music you are currently making? I doubt it.  Or at least I hope not, because if that is the case, you should be doing it already, irrespective.

Allowing any of this petty jealousy or resentment to take any kind of hold on your attitude is really dangerous – and I am not lecturing, because I can be guilty of this myself if I allow it to happen.  First and foremost it basically makes you look like an idiot, but more importantly it can really distract you from what you should be doing.  And what you should be doing is this: just getting the fuck on with it.

The only way to improve or to achieve anything is to get the fuck on with it, do your work, release your records, write your blog, practise practise practise, and only worry about what you are achieving. Spending your time fretting about who doesn’t like you, who isn’t interested, who won’t listen is counter-productive.  You only have so much energy, so don’t waste it when there are more than enough people out there who are interested to keep you busier than you can probably handle anyway.

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