Late-Blooming Musicians (By a Late-Blooming Musician)

I rarely post something that’s already been published elsewhere; but I came across this blog last night by a good friend, Philly-based artist Ryan Tennis, and I thought everyone should read it.  Since reading the sited Ira Glass quote (below) sometime last year, I’ve seen so many derivative articles come from what I believe to be one of the most compelling and truthful statements for aspiring and working musicians.  Read Ryan’s thoughts a tell us what you think!

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I recently read the following gem from Ira Glass – host of NPR’s “This American Life” and one of my personal heroes – and it sparked some thoughts (below).

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

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The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who’s an accomplished, passionate, in-demand musician, and he was wondering why it is that the sub-par players are always the ones crassly forcing their music on people and missing clear social cues during jam sessions?  I knew just what he was talking about, not only cause I’ve seen it in all it’s raw awkwardness, but because I’ve been that person in my adult life.

I went on to tell him some about my early development as a musician.  I told him that, while I had a background of singing in school and could play a little guitar, I didn’t really discover my passion for music until after college (and football).  I had almost never hung around musicians or artists, and that whole way of being was foreign to me, but so appealing and exciting at the same time.  I started learning some of my favorite songs (a lot of Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Guster, and Dave Matthews), and I was so unbelievably excited and pleased with myself for doing it. Next I started writing songs, and I could feel the music so deeply that I was certain that something cosmically special was happening.

…why it is that the sub-par players are always the ones crassly forcing their music on people…

While 23-year-old Ryan was a relatively capable adult with at least the basic college-level social skills, artist Ryan was only a couple years old – and he acted like it (somehow it’s not so cute when you don’t look like a toddler)!  I had discoverd this new passion that was burning so hotlly, and I just had to share it.  That desire was so strong that it blinded me to social cues I otherwise would have noticed.  God, I’m cringing now as I remember breaking out the guitar at parties and having friends roll their eyes or people leave the room, or the time I played a new song when I was hanging out one-on-one with my friend who, in retrospect, was clearly uncomfortable.  Oooh, or a little later when I made some rudimentary recordings and pushed them on anyone who would humor me (and plenty who wouldn’t).  I don’t know how you write the sound for an embarrassed shudder, but that’s what I’m doing right now.

Like Ira said, the music just wasn’t that good.  A few kind souls encouraged me, and after practicing and floundering and painfully, awkwardly blundering forward, I began to develop and become more palatable, good even.  At the same time I started to be more comfortable and strategic about my desire to be heard, and I learned how to hold back sometimes.  It was NOT easy.

I think that everyone who’s passionate about music (or any kind of creation) has gone through this phase at some point, but lifelong musicians like my friend were lucky enough to go through it as kids when the other musicians around them were just starting out too (although as he told me, being an artsy creative middle-schooler had more than it’s share of challenges).

To some of you this tale might ring truer than others, but I suppose I write it in the hope that you are gentle on people who, like me, develop their artistic side a little late.  The adult before you may be more childlike than they appear.

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The charming authenticity of Ryan Tennis‘ sound has drawn comparisons to Paul Simon, Ryan Adams and Martin Sexton, surprising likenesses for an All-American college football player turned singer/songwriter. He has appeared on NBC’s “The 10! Show” and 6abc’s “Tuned In.” He has twice opened for Shawn Colvin, debuted with his band at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and shared the stage with folk legend Ellis Paul. Tennis credits Philadelphia’s music scene with inspiring his sense of groove. His Twitter handle is @rytennis.

 

  • Lewis Robinson

    Yes! And I’ve gone through it more than once – I was a late bloomer in any terms, starting the drums around 18. Then after going through all that with the band I was in and just me generally being like that, I picked up a guitar a few years back and, while not so bad 2nd time around, was still like that
    I suddenly feel slightly less of a prick lol

  • http://sonicbids.com/joshuasanders Joshuasandersmusic

    There is that side of the coin, but I also started guitar relatively late in life and KNEW I sucked. (I suck less now)…But, I would not play with other musicians or play in front of anybody until after I had taken about 8 years of guitar lessons and five years of voice lessons…In retrospect though I think I might have helped my development move along a bit more rapidly if I had done so; there is absolutley nothing that wil duplicate those experiences by practicing in your living room.

  • http://twitter.com/aCurioVis Shinsk

    I wasn’t a late bloomer when it came to music, but I was when it came to songwriting. I only let a few people i trusted listen until it got to the point that they said it was good enough to share. I think it was 30-40 songs in :)

    I’m actually kind of happy it turned out that way, great article thanks.

  • DC Cardwell

    Good article. I think this is a golden age for late bloomers in music. In the days when big record companies ruled, their A&R guy were always heavily biased towards people who were young and good looking! But now, as we know, anyone can get their music out there. I only started singing and writing songs when I was in my 40s and thought that no one would ever hear them, but right at that time the wonderful world of MySpace (you younger folks won’t know what I’m talking about) opened the doors for people like me.

    There is a LOT of great music around that’s being made by people who raised families, had careers etc, and then got back to their music later in life!

  • oBifferson

    It’s so interesting to read your characterization of how being a late-bloomer affected you. I have the opposite problem! Because I started late, I KNOW I’m bad, so I’ve been scared shitless of showing anyone my work or being even remotely confident since I started. I study people like you (really anyone who is clearly new or not highly skilled but has absolutely no fear), and I keep trying to be more like you. I’m both envious and admiring of people who just do what they love without worrying about the rest. <3

  • Josh

    Great article ,it´s like many of the words you said were coming out from somewhere in my mind ,I have felt a 99% of what you describe in this article ,I´ve tried to tell some of my friends the way it feels to give yourself credit for something you wrote but I haven´t get to be clear to them ,they are like ¨yes ¨ but they cannot understand it and I can tell by the look in their eyes .