Authenticity, in any case, is a key to work we love. It doesn’t matter if it’s an album, film or some other creative endeavor. We can’t tell you how to make something authentic, that’s up to you, but we can say that we believe your best work comes from a place that’s truly yours, and no one else’s.
We listen to a lot of music. Currently, we receive more than 50 album submissions every day, and we listen to every single one of them. This gives our A&R team (specifically VP of A&R Nic Carfa) a unique perspective on creative authenticity — we can pick out artists who are being so, and definitely those that aren’t.
By far, the most common reason we reject an album is because it lacks authenticity. It feels derivative. It’s not just that we’ve heard it before; it doesn’t seem to be coming from the artist’s heart. We realize that sounds presumptuous. But art of any kind has the weird ability to absorb the intention of the artist. We can’t say what it is exactly, but it’s in there somewhere. You can hear it, see it, feel it, taste it. And we believe that’s true for any form of creativity.
So while we can’t tell you how to be yourself, we can share some things we’ve learned over the years about authenticity.
Work that chases money often has the shortest shelf life — if any shelf life at all.
Money can be the most confusing thing in the world for an artist. If you use it as a metric of success, you can throw yourself completely out of whack. Work that chases money often has the shortest shelf life — if any shelf life at all. You’re always a step behind the fad. But a strange thing happens when work comes from your heart. It lasts a long time. It holds up. Sure, it might not be flash-in-the-pan successful, but years from now it could still catch on. If your work is made just for the money, it has one shot at making it before the fad moves on. And then it’s useless. Like Jack Kerouac once said, “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” In our experience, work with heart always finds its audience — eventually.
Not all who mimic are after money. Mimicry is often just a form of insecurity. We’re not confident in who we are, so we adopt the form of someone else. There is a place for mimicry in an artist’s development; but if you don’t move beyond it, then at some point you risk becoming a hack. One of the best ways of finding your confidence is simply to produce a lot of work. The more work you produce, the less weight there is on each individual piece. When you finally stop worrying about being a genius, you end up just being yourself, which is, strangely, a form of genius all its own. Also, when you produce a lot of work, you’ll find yourself getting bored with imitation. You’ll dig deep into something authentic out of simple desperation. And once you get there, it’s hard to go back.
If you’re worried you have nothing to say, we’re sure you are wrong.
At the risk of sounding trite, we really do believe everybody has something worth saying (in whatever form) — but only if they’re able to reach down into a place of complete honesty and authenticity. It’s honesty that resonates, not technical ability or craftsmanship. Take our friend Chad Lawson, for example. He was unhappy and uncomfortable in the jazz world as a pianist, so he decided to make an album for himself, from his voice. To quote him from our latest film (you can watch the full film here) “Authenticity means being true to yourself. I have to be who Chad is. And I think you have to do that with your art. If I go into a room and if I play a song that only has two notes, and I really feel that’s who I am as a person, I’m totally fine with that.” That album landed on Billboard and iTunes’ top classical charts. We’re definitely not saying being authentic will always bring you success, but we are saying that Chad’s situation was no coincidence. Authentic work, with your voice, and true intentions, resonates with people. That’s a great place to start.
Sometimes artists will ask what type of music we’re looking for. On the one hand, it’s a very thoughtful, generous question. But our reply is inevitably disappointing. We want artists to send us things that come straight from their own heart. And we have no way of telling them what that should be. A quote by Howard Thurman comes to mind. We read it years ago and have never been able to forget it: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Learning how to truly be yourself is such a surprisingly difficult task, but especially if you’re a person who’s gifted — or burdened — with the need to create. You sit down with your work, and suddenly it’s hard to remember exactly who you are. Not everyone struggles with this, but most do. Take heart. You’ll find your true self and your authenticity. Keep working and you will find it.
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