LAID BACK or LAZY? (WE CAN BUT WE WON’T.)
In Austin, we straddle the line between laid back and lazy. Slackerville is an appropriate nickname for our city. We are functional slackers. It’s becoming a bit overused but there’s truth in the idea that Austin is “the place where 30 year-olds come to retire.”
Austin attracts talented people who want an easy going life – creative people who don’t want to live/work in the cut-throat environs of the three main entertainment hubs (LA, NY and Nashville). Among them are many dedicated, motivated people… but most of the truly gifted people I’ve known in Austin are simply not motivated enough to put forth big effort.
You know these people. They’re so good they seem bored with themselves. They can do it… and they’re SO over it. They know their abilities could allow them to outpace the majority of their peers but they prefer to coast along with minimal effort reaching the finish line barely ahead of or alongside the rest.
That’s ok. But when these people are called upon to put forth more effort they usually won’t. You did that?!? Wow! So… can you do… this? I feel like the answer is often, “Yes, I can… but, no, I won’t.” To go back the Ass metaphor of my previous posts, these are people with enormous amounts of ass – they just don’t utilize it.
I saw Dismemberment Plan’s final show at Emo’s on Red River a few years ago. The singer told the audience how much he loved Austin but that he dared not move here for fear that he’d wake up one morning and find that many years had passed unnoticed with little to no productivity on his part (my language, not his).
I laughed then but now I realize his hesitation is warranted.
In many ways, Austin is as much a haven for the lazy as it is for the creative – if you’re both you’re really in luck! It’s great to be in a town of creative people but the flip side is that Austin is so easy going that we don’t expect much of ourselves or each other.
I’ve been to my fair share of rehearsals where very few people (if any) were actually prepared. Sometimes I’ve been the unprepared one! This is not to mention the rehearsals that are more about drinking beer or smoking weed than making music.
This seems to be the norm. Even higher pay doesn’t seem to make a difference unless it’s really high… but most of us won’t ever reach that point. I know at least two guys who pay well for session players on their albums. Most of the players arrive to these recording sessions late having not even viewed/heard the reference material. They just go in blindly and wing it. The list of well known names who do this regularly is surprising.
We’re pretty flakey, aren’t we, when “the best” among us are just the most functional of slackers?
A friend once told me that Austin is a town that rewards failure. Well… A lot of people would say that it’s a success to live in a place that’s so easy going. If life is a zero sum game, why try so hard? What are we all working toward anyway? Retirement at 30? Peaceful death? For many, Austin is the destination. Here we are. Now what? Who cares, we made it to Austin!! Enjoy!
The quest for an easy-going life is what draws Americans to places like Costa Rica, Cancun, Jamaica, etc. If you’ve ever visited these places, you’ve surely noticed their simple, laid back ways of life. They don’t get much done… but they live in a seemingly stress-free paradise. It makes sense to prioritize having a great life that you enjoy daily rather than living for the dollar like they do in more industrious places.
That’s really awesome… unless you’re a more ambitious person. Afterall, most of those laid-back nations are undereducated, poor and scraping the bottom of the barrell. They earn just about enough to survive.
Also, just as these nations attract disgruntled US citizens who can live like kings with their high value currency and better education, Austin attracts people from California, New York, etc. who don’t think our housing prices are expensive. No wonder all of us seem to be moving farther and farther from the city center. Our awesomeness is attracting others who want to be part of it and they’re pricing us out of our own town.
I think that even the most slackerly among us can learn to compete, though, and raise our standards. If we don’t, I fear we will just continue reaping the rewards complacency – weak music/arts infrastructure, national chains overtaking local businesses, streets full of bad sounding/low-paying/short-lived venues and overachievers from outside defining the place because we’re either too lazy and unprepared step up our game. If we can’t do that, maybe they deserve to take over and we should just move to Fayetteville, AR.
Side note 1 – That last part is a tough argument. Most people in Austin aren’t from here – as a transplant myself, I suppose that I probably seem hypocritical. Afterall, I seem to think I’m more motivated than most people here as I sit on my high horse offering critique. Recently, someone even suggested that I move. My response – I’ve lived here 13 years. This is the first place I CHOSE to live in as an adult. I didn’t move here with big plans to conquer the place. I wanted to be part of it. I’d rather help make it better than leave.
Side note 2 – It may be hard for outside influence to make much headway here. Austin’s laid-back attitude is totally infectious. I am among MANY people who refused to adopt the flip flop upon moving here. Now…
Back to the point – There’s got to be a balance of ambition and ability. I think we can be laid back without being lazy but we have to use our skills rather than letting them atrophy.
You could be an amazing musician or actor or programmer…. but if you won’t put forth the effort, it doesn’t matter. Unless you’re “discovered” by a rich person or company that wants to fund your artistic endeavors, you’ll eventually be lapped by the guy/gal with more ambition or burn out quickly.
The bottom line – it doesn’t matter how much ass you’ve got if you don’t use it.
CONCLUSION OF THIS SERIES
In conclusion, I’m committed to eliminating the Austin Effort as my own default setting and I’m trying hard every day to overcome it in the face of rampant half-assedness by myself and others. When I moved here, I did NOT operate this way. I put everything I could into what I was doing and did my best. Over the last 13 years, I’ve succumbed to the factors I’ve listed in these last four blog entries. It’s time for that to end for me personally.
I also wanted to re-state WHY I’m writing this stuff because I’ve gotten a few comments from people that think I’m just complaining about our music community.
My intention in these last four pieces has been to write about things aren’t helping us and to hopefully get everyone at least thinking about working together. When we work together in this music community, really good things happen. When we don’t, it’s every man for himself.
Even in other industries (oil, utilities, transportation, etc.) various companies come together and share resources, ideas, etc. We don’t do that in music very often. Instead, there’s a scarcity mentality that reminds me a bit of Seth Godin’s Race To the Bottom. Many of us don’t even realize that the biggest conference for such discussions is held right here in Austin each March at SxSW. We’re too busy partying to pay attention — or we don’t want to hear what the people working in the industry really have to say.
I’m also writing from the perspective of my own musical preferences in the southwest region. I’m just one guy and I’m not a part of every genre or niche in the Austin music scene. Blues bands might have a different experience. Country bands most certainly will.
Furthermore, in case it’s not clear, I’m focusing on the business side of art. This blog is about leading a band, not on artistic ideas. If the idea/practice of running a band like a business is offensive to you – like the idea that playing with the same bands in the same clubs to the same people week after week isn’t doing much to grow your band fund – yes, you’ll be annoyed by everything I write here. Ignore me and continue making great art to share with the world.