I know how James Taylor might feel. Well, sort of.
When Beth and I do an outdoor concert, we become part of a long tradition of summer entertainment. Unlike indoor programs, the outdoor shows often merge together community, nature and music – a really great combination that is even better when it’s held at a scenic location. When we saw James at Bethel Woods, he made reference to the beauty of the night on many levels. I get it.
Last night’s Beth & Scott show was in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. Behind our stage was the Hudson River. The night was comfortable – 70 degrees with no observable humidity. I would guesstimate that we had about fifty people in front of us and another fifty or so enjoying the park, the river and one another while our tunes played in the background of their experience. It’s not 5000 or even 500 people, but that’s just the way it is.
One of the changes I’ve noticed this summer, the 30th one Beth and I have enjoyed together as performers, is that I’m not focused on the clock. In the past, my energy and desire to keep playing have coincided with the contracted length of a show (45 minutes) and I was happy to put my guitar down, pack up and leave. Lately, though, I find that I’m happy to start a little earlier with some entrance music and go a little bit longer if the audience seems willing. I guess I’m having fun In the Present Moment instead of thinking, “what’s next?” or “that’s what they paid for.” This is a good omen. Thirty years in and a lot of performers (or people who do any job) are ready to retire. Thank God, I’m still invested in finding the passion and sharing it ’cause there ain’t no pension at the end of this man’s career!
I’ve been thinking about passion a lot this past week. In between bouts of mild depression which seem linked to my anxiety (working on that), I am asking myself, “Scott, how do you want to show up for the rest of your life?” If past is prologue, thoughts like these mean that I’m readying myself for some sort of creative leap. I wonder what it will be?
I’ve been thinking about marketing, too, the business of getting what I/we do “out there” so that people who want to hire, collaborate or create with us know we’re here. I am not particularly talented in this area. Most of my success is due to the fact that we do what we do well. We are very professional onstage and off and we deliver on our promises consistently. This is enough to have what you might call a boutique career. We make enough money to survive year after year (not a small feat for artists who built a career in Westchester, NY) but it’s not enough to thrive. In all of our businesses, current and former (Beth & Scott’s concerts/workshops/merch, Scott Bierko’s music for big people, Beth’s yoga business, a yoga center we once and managed together), we have never found the bridge that leads from boutique to mass appeal. We have never thrived financially, even though we’ve tried!
We’ve hired professionals to help us, but in most of those cases, we spent more than we netted. I used to fret about this A LOT looking for the silver bullet that would get us to the next level. In the last five or ten years, though, I’ve slowly resigned myself to the fact that I really don’t have a clue and probably lack some ambition, too. I’ve given it up to God (a good thing) and accepted that being a boutique business allows us a lot of creative control, free time and less stress than people who rock the world. I’ve also found a couple of people who are working on getting us gigs. That helps a lot.
James Taylor has known #1 hit success, but for most of his career, his trajectory has not been like Michael Jackson’s or Taylor Swift’s careers. JT is very comfortable being good at what he does, playing great songs that people love and enjoying himself while he does it. He has a beautiful family and one of his sons plays in his band. It’s a sweet life. Do you think he worries about growing his career anymore? Having another number-one song? Doubtful. He’s in a place where maintaining his instrument (himself) and doing what he loves is enough. More is not his focus.
So, while a part of me longs for more, another part of me wishes to sustain what I already have. I am okay to have the passion to create another song that moves people and makes me feel fulfilled. My father once told me that my success is much more than so many people have in their work lives. He saw that I wanted more and didn’t dissuade me from trying, but he reminded me that what I’ve already achieved is substantial.
And that’s a #1 hit.