Whenever a person embarks on the type of path that I am trying to embark on, he has to brace himself for a lot of doubt and a lot of predictions that he will fail.
"If you can't handle criticism, you're in the wrong business," I told myself back in January when I made the decision to seriously pursue music. Based solely on the statistical unlikeliness of any one person finding success in the recording industry, the unknowns who do attempt to break in are likely to encounter more people telling them they're crazy than people who will cheer them on.
This can be viewed as a negative reflection of our nature, but I see it, in a strange way, as a blessing.
The fact is, I've been told to my face that I can't sing, that I am not good looking enough to attract fans, that there is no market for a solo male pop act, and, by my own brother no less, that the idea I could be profitable for a record label was "the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard."
An aspiring musician of any kind has to develop tremendous self confidence and to believe in himself even when no one else does.
Don't misinterpret this attitude for blindness: if every person I encountered told me they didn't like my music, I'd start to reevaluate.
But learning to take negativity and plunge ahead unhindered, with full faith in myself and my vision, has been an enormously rewarding aspect of this entire process.
The latest voice to preach doom has been that of my Aunt Smugly Superior, one of the only members of Anne's family to make something of her life. Smugly Superior left Decaying State after college and never looked back, moving instead to Country Music City, where she began a successful career as a fundraiser for a well-known university and raised her family.
The movement through high social circles that her job facilitates combined with her geographic location gives her certain contacts in the music industry, which several relatives have attempted in vain to exploit.
Anne, after she learned of my recent discussions with Local Records, asked me to solicit my aunt's advice, reasoning that Smugly Superior would be able to guide me through any pitfalls and help me spot any obvious problems.
I reluctantly agreed, but I wasn't looking forward to the conversation because I knew exactly what it would entail.
Smugly Superior, possibly because of the unstable and fantastic nature of her own childhood, has assumed an attitude of rationality, reserve, and caution so inhibited that it represses many possibilities. She is the kind of well-intentioned person who perhaps without meaning it has killed thousands of dreams.
The biggest problem with her is that she values respectability and steadiness, or at least the appearance of them, enough that when she isn't sure what's right she'll pick a position and stick with it, untouched by even the idea that her way is not best.
It took me several years to figure this out, but a big indicator came when I was seventeen. I was in the process of college-searching at the time and sought her insight, whereupon I received an evaluation so bleak that I literally had difficulty sleeping that night as thoughts of stiff admissions competition and exorbitant tuition plagued my dreams.
As it was, I got into my first choice on early admission and have not been crushed by the burden of paying for classes at my state university.
Bearing this and other experiences in mind, I knew before I even talked to her what her opinion would be, so when she called the other day I braced myself.
"Hey, Aunt Smugly Superior," I said, forcing cheerfulness into my voice.
She asked how I was, then broached the subject of the record company that, for some inexplicable reason, had taken an interest in me.
"Have they asked you for any money?" she wanted to know.
"They said they get ten percent of anything I make," I answered.
"Right, but have they asked for anything up front?"
"What songs did they hear that they liked so much? Sing some of those for me."
After I ran through a few of the tunes in the middle of campus on my cell phone while trying to be quiet, she gave a silent assessment and asked if they were interested in me as a singer or a songwriter.
When I told her it was as a singer, she asked if I'd heard the track we recorded, the clear implication being that no such track actually existed.
"They e-mailed it to me," I said. "They said I'm under copyright now and I should have it."
"Well, what kinds of things are they looking to do?" she asked.
When I relayed to her the proposals for press releases and a photo shoot, she asked if the photos would cost money.
"Yeah, but they pay for it," I said.
"Were they explicit about that?" she inquired.
"Yes," I answered, by this time irritated at going through the same questions again and again.
She came up with every scenario possible.
They could be trying to solicit pay for public relations services.
They could be looking to exploit someone naive.
They could have gone into someone's house and be posing as the owners of the recording studio.
If they really wanted a young new artist, why would they pick someone who's already twenty-one?
"Well, they offer to record demos for $25.00 an hour," I said. "Which is why I initially contacted them in the first place, with the intent of paying them. So if they were trying to get money out of me, wouldn't it make more sense to just let me give them the fee instead of embarking on some elaborate scheme?"
After it became abundantly clear that neither my father nor I had been hoodwinked, Aunt Smugly Superior, in a line of reasoning so implicit with doubt in my abilities that it should have been insulting, concluded that the people who are now considering offering me a recording deal are idiots.
"It sounds like they're trying to get into the music industry, but they don't really know what they're doing," she posited. "I mean, they don't even have a website up yet."
Another alleged sign of unfitness was their charging me ten percent instead of twenty-five, which according to Aunt Smugly Superior has been standard in "her experience."
I could be very upset by this comically-negative appraisal of my talent and marketability, but I'm not. Instead, I am left with a profound sense of personal growth in the knowledge I can say, not because a record label is interested in me, not because my friends tell me so, but because I know it to be objectively true, that she is wrong.
All the people who have ever doubted me have been wrong, and that reality is not dependent on the attention of a recording company. I will continue to pursue this dream and put stock in it regardless of what happens, and if Local Records decided tomorrow that I was crap I'd find the money to record a demo and then send it to as many people as I could.
I won't stop. I won't slow down. This is my time.