As I was leaving the house, I grabbed my coat. The weather seemed undecided. It reminded me of Ireland, of home, four seasons in the space of an hour. I stepped onto the pavement and the door swung closed behind me. I sunk my hand into one of my coat pockets to deposit my house keys then rooted around and felt something way down in there. It was a pair of earplugs.
Recently, I did something I rarely do. I decided, rather than just circling in the air above the jungle that is Twitter, I would fly straight into a polemic. I commented on a post regarding racism in Ireland, a country close to my heart, where I spent formative years as a child and teenager. The problem with a mud fight is that, even if you win, you still get muddy. This instance proved no different.
When an aspiring singer and the 19-year-old daughter of a musician friend of mine mentioned that she had never spent a penny on music in her entire life, I stopped what I was doing to listen. She quickly followed with the remark that she rarely listens to any song for more than 9 seconds unless its “really really good”. Her remark released a murmuration. I considered 9 seconds. Is it really possible to recognise a song and pass judgement on it in just 9 seconds?
You’ve decided to become a professional musician — and you’re not just rolling into it impulsively. This choice follows childhood years of extravagant travel and competitions where your parents wrote sick notes to get you out of school and your nearest and dearest friends and family oohed and aahed when you eagerly whipped out your violin to serenade them. You’ve thought about this and decided to jump in, eyes wide open, high hopes held tight. You want exposure and access to wider audiences. So, you begin your ascent to the top of the proverbial mountain, to a place where the air is thin and record labels offer weighty contracts. Only few succeed in this endeavor, but you make it to the top, and then you find out this is not enough. You have to earn the trust of your audience, maintain a high professional standard and assure reliability to those who work with you. The pressure is intense and relentless. You stand, essentially, at the service and pleasure of your audience. You work exceedingly hard for your vocation, and although you have an audience, constructed by your record label and promoters, you don’t necessarily know your audience. After all, concert halls are often plunged into darkness once the performance begins. Then, the Internet comes along, and with it, user-friendly platforms that enable musicians like you a means to self-publish. From MySpace to Facebook, the information superhighway opens. It’s the new millennium! You’re the master of your own destiny, but also directly exposed to all the criticism that’s out there. It now lands directly on your lap in the form of a like, a comment, or a click.
13 March 2020: I remember standing on a street corner in a neighbourhood of Zurich with Lukas Bärfuss. The day had started off bright and sunny, and we had spent it working out details of a new collaboration. When it was time for me to return home, he accompanied me to the tram stop to make sure I caught the correct connection. We then noticed a never-ending stream of people walking, all in the same down-hill direction, all heading home to begin lockdown.