I met my friend Don when I was 17 and he was 20 back in 1972. We worked together at a Maine resort which presented live music along with rustic accommodations in a lakefront setting. Don was a music student at Oberlin College, a talented drummer and a pretty good musician overall. I was about to enter college as a communications major with an interest in journalism. Today, Don and I are both in our 60's and both practicing skills we've honed over our lives, Don as a musician and me as a writer. We both have day jobs. Yet, Don is as busy as he wants to be playing with various groups in Seattle, curating collections of musicians at local venues, leading a large ensemble in a John Coltrane tribute, playing at a deli on Sundays and teaching kids the drums.
I've just published my third book in three years and am growing an audience. I am absolutely sold on self-publishing as a way of expressing my desire to tell stories without the creative interference of large publishing companies and agents. I haven't been doing my own thing as long as Don has, so I have a ways to go in terms of gathering numbers of followers. But I've been happy starting small, creating quality stories for anyone who wants to read them and working to generate interest beyond friends, family and acquaintances.
My point is not shameless self-promotion--I'm not above that--but extolling the value of artists who do it for the sheer joy of creating their art and sharing it. I don't think any of us strives to emulate J.D. Salinger who, late in life, hunkered down in a shack and wrote and wrote and wrote for no one but himself. Yes, we do it to satisfy ourselves, but not sharing it with the world makes it an empty exercise. I have an ego. I do like it when people tell me they like my work and I care that they do. I also care if they don't, but it doesn't keep me up at night.
This brings me to my friend Devon who, with her new band Scout, played to an audience of 600-800 people at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, on a Saturday night in January. It was just a few years ago that Devon was going to karaoke bars with friends where, it turned out, she was not just another off-key amateur. She was good. She sings with heart and has generated enough attention to attract gigs all over New Jersey and even went on tour. With Scout's performance at Starland, Devon brought her independent sound to her largest audience yet, an audience that eclipsed friends and family. Of course, like the rest of us, she went back to her day job the following Monday but I'm certain she will continue playing, writing and promoting her music because she loves it and more and more people are hearing it.
Technology and the internet have made the last dozen years a fertile period for independent artists of all kinds. You can self publish an ebook or a song for nothing. Social media provides free promotion that can spread the word about your work immediately to great numbers of people. Authors, artists and musicians are creating volumes of work, not all of it great, but all of it available for the world to judge.
Giving independent artists a listen or a read opens doors for all of us.