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Relevance

Hello Troubadourians! Relevance is a big concern for me both musically, professionally, and personally. Recently, there was an issue that came up in my day job that started me thinking about remaining relevant. At what point are we no longer relevant? At what point is our music—that which we play and that which we listen to—no longer relevant? The Beatles went through a similar crisis of relevancy when Paul McCartney heard one of their songs as Muzak in an elevator. Although the song in question was one of their very early hits, McCartney worried that they—and he—were yesterday’s news. (Ironically, he hadn’t written “Yesterday” as yet). This was while the band was still officially together. Admittedly, the Beatles went through many style changes during their time together and they experimented with many genres of music, but they remained relevant, and, perhaps more important, influential at that time and still do to this day. Why? I believe it is because they never lived in the past and never worried that they wouldn’t be able to create music and songs as good as their older hits. As I mentioned previously, they were never afraid to experiment with sounds and genres that were old, new, or even ones they created. That fearlessness is what we should aspire to as musicians and as people. It keeps us relevant. Oh, and that issue about my own relevance that inspired this discussion? Well, I’m still very relevant. Experience is relevant and I sure have a lot of it. And I still come up with solutions that are creative and elegant. Reflecting on that sometimes makes me feel old, but more often it makes me feel blessed to have had the opportunities and experience that I’ve had. That applies to my music as well.

Since I chose to make music my secondary profession rather than my primary profession I’ve often been concerned that I wasn’t experiencing the things I needed to be relevant. Was I missing out on some fundamental thing that I was supposed to know? The interesting thing about whenever I asked myself that question regarding my music, it was often after asking myself the same question about engineering. I have always put more effort than was required into everything I do whether it was music or engineering or parenting because anything that is important is going to be worth the extra effort. With engineering there was the measuring stick of earning a degree but there was no comparable measure for my music. I realized that the only measure of my growth was against myself—had I improved over yesterday or last week?—and what would be the next thing that I needed to add to my experience. Most of that learning came from learning how to conduct myself in situations where I was expected to be “professional” regardless of how I actually made my living. I’ve written in previous columns about some of those lessons and experiences and all of them were important to becoming and remaining relevant. But I really appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to contribute to some excellent projects either as a member of a band or as a sideman on recordings. Those are performances that will last forever and will hopefully entertain and inspire everyone who listens to them.

Perhaps I need to better define relevance for this discussion. Relevance is being able to create something as a solution to a problem or to create a part of something artistic where that contribution can stand up to the scrutiny and analysis of those involved as the best solution or part of one, and have it remain so over time. That’s a tall order and many people aren’t comfortable with being in that position. I understand that feeling and there were times when I wasn’t prepared to answer the challenge. It is having experienced those times that have served as my inspiration to improve and succeed and continue to drive me forward to remain relevant. Maybe a simpler definition would be to say “never settle” and that has merit, but it overlooks a very important part of relevance. There may be many solutions to problems of the moment that are timely and of high quality and are the very definition of “never settle,” but they may also be as temporary and faddish as the moment itself. It can also be a trap. If you allow yourself to get caught in a loop of continual reëxamination you probably won’t be able to recognize the solution should it actually present itself. As I said above, relevance is about the immediate solution but also about remaining so over time. It is this subtle spanning of time that is the paradox of relevance. The creation of something that is inspired in and by the moment but has the ability and quality to remain the correct solution after the moment has long past is the measure we require.

So how do you measure your relevance? Many of you already know the answer that is applicable your lives. But you doubt the relevance of your music. I would say that for most readers of this column your participation in your music is where the relevance lies for you. Do you perform regularly? Do you write and record original music? Do you perform at or organize Open Mic events? Do you teach music? If you don’t play, do you promote events where others can perform and play? Do you operate a music store? All of these things and activities are opportunities for creating relevance. Every teacher who has a student that is still actively playing their instrument is relevant. Every music store owner or employee who sold an instrument to someone who actively plays it as often as possible is relevant. These are basic and the essence of relevancy. We judge performance a little differently, but I would say that if you have ever performed music or even just one song that people remember you for and ask you to play whenever they see you perform, you are relevant. That latter is understandably more difficult to achieve as there are so many factors involved that complicate everything but if you’re there, congratulations! You were able to create something that people enjoyed in the moment and wanted to experience again and again. Hopefully you will continue to play and create and entertain people until you can no longer sing or play. Never give up and never stop getting better because you, my friend, are relevant.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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